One of the world’s most popular and oldest spices, black pepper is the berry of a flowering vine (piper nigrum) native to India’s south-western Malabar coast. The plant produces spikes of berries that are harvested to become black, white or green pepper. Black pepper, picked when the berries are still green and then dried, is the hottest; milder white peppercorns are the dried mature berries; while green peppercorns are picked at the same time as black but not dried.
Black pepper has been a staple cooking and finishing condiment for millennia. In fact the “king of spices” was used in India at least 4,000 years ago, and featured in Egyptian mummification ceremonies – it was even found stuffed into the nostrils of Rameses II, who died 1213 BC. It’s not known how the spice reached Egypt, as it wasn’t until after the Middle Ages that trade routes were improved and pepper began to be grown outside India. Until then, peppercorns were the preserve of the rich. In medieval times, “black gold” was even accepted as payment for rent and debts. “Peppercorn rent” may now suggest a meagre sum, but this spice was once worth more than its weight in gold.
Use black pepper on ...
meat and vegetables, in curries, sauces, marinades, stir-fries, sausages, egg dishes and even desserts. It teams beautifully with steak, and is celebrated in Asian seafood dishes and stir-fries (think salt-and-pepper squid or crab). It’s an essential ingredient in garam masala, is found in bouquet garni, and indispensible in a Bloody Mary. Ground over fresh strawberries, it enhances the flavour of the fruit in a unique way.
Like most spices, black pepper will keep its flavour longer if bought whole and ground as needed. Add it towards the end of the cooking process to ensure the aroma and taste is not lost.
Black pepper goes with ...
salt, steak, chicken, seafood, sauces, vegetables, curries, tomatoes, strawberries, eggs.