Where Does Black Pepper Come From?
The familiar black pepper we season our food with comes from the dried berries of the pepper vine, which grows in Indonesia and other hot countries.
The pepper vine bears clusters of small berries about the size of peas. The berries are picked just before they ripen. This is the period when they have the most peppery flavor.
The pepper plant start producing small round berries after about three to four years of plantation. Technically, the pepper berry is a drupe, measuring about 5 mm in diameter, containing a single large seed at its center.
After they are gathered, the berries are spread out on mats in the sun. As they dry, they shrivel and harden into black peppercorns. The peppercorns are ground in a pepper mill to make the black pepper we sprinkle on our food.
Black peppers have a strong pungent flavor that comes to them from volatile-oils, such as piperine. In case of ground peppercorns, these volatile oils may disappear because of evaporation of these compounds if kept open in the air for extended periods.
Cubeb or tailed pepper berries are dried unripe fruits of the Piper cubeba vine that is grown mainly Indonesian rain forest. They appear similar to black peppercorns but have a characteristic stalk which is often interpreted as a “tail.” Cubeb berries have a distinctive flavor rich in monoterpene essential oil, cubebene.
Black Peppers are available all year around. In the store, buy whole peppercorns which should be wholesome, heavy, round and compact instead of pepper powder since, oftentimes, it may contain adulterated spicy powders.
Peppercorns can be stored at room temperature for many years and can be milled using hand mill as and when required. It can be kept inside the refrigerator for up to a month or so. Powdered pepper should be stored inside the refrigerator in airtight containers.