(Last Updated on : 13/03/2009)
Black pepper essentially serves as a spice, employed enormously for seasoning and garnishing, the dried version and fruit of the tree Piperaceae of which can be witnessed virtually in every Indian home. The spice black pepper however bears its botanical name as being Piper nigrum Linn, with the family name acting as the already mentioned Piperaceae. The spice, owing to its rich aromatic popularity in Indian kitchens, also is acknowledged by umpteen regional Indian names, like Kali Mirch in Hindi; Gol morich and Kalo marich in Bengali; Kala Mari in Gujarati; Kare Menasu in Kannada; Marutis in Kashmiri; Karumaluku and Nallamaluku in Malayalam; Kali Mirch and Mire in Marathi; Gol Maricha in Oriya; Kali Mirch in Punjabi; Ushana, Maricha, Hapusha in Sanskrit; Milagu in Tamil; Miriyalu in Telugu; Kali Mirch, Siah Mirch in Urdu.
Black pepper is a spice to South India and is cultivated expansively and broadly there and elsewhere in the separate tropical regions. Black pepper is also widely cropped and cultured in the Coorg area of Karnataka. There exist umpteen varieties and types of black pepper known in the world trade. These peppers, normally cultivated in port regions other than India, quite naturally, differ slightly in their physical and chemical characteristics, colour, size, shape, flavour, aroma and bite.
Black pepper matures up from sea level up to an altitude of 1500 metres. It serves as a plant that possesses the essentialities to grow in the humid tropical regions, calling for adequate rainfall, extreme humidity and warm climate for its maturation. Black pepper grows best in regions of annual rainfall with more than 250 cm in measurement, thriving rich in humus soil, which is neither too dry nor vulnerable to floods, moist, well-drained and fertile in organic matter. The plant of black pepper plant is a perpetual woody vine, growing to great heights on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It serves as a vine that fans out, rooting without much troubles, where drooping stems touch the ground. The leaves of Black pepper appear to be alternately placed, entirely shaped, ranging from five to ten centimetres in length and three to six centimetres in breadth. The flowers appear small in size, blooming on pendulous spikes four to eight centimetres in length at the leaf nodes, the spikes reaching in length from 7 to 15 centimetres as the fruit ripens. The plants are circularised and popularised by cuttings, approximately 40 to 50 centimetres in length and then are tied up to adjacent trees or climbing frames at lengths of approximately two metres in difference. Trees that possess a rough bark are preferred over ones with smoothened bark, as black pepper plants grown amongst rough bark more voluntarily. The roots are covered in leaf mulch and manure and the shoots are pruned twice a year. During the dry season, the young plants require watering every single day on dry soils for the initial three years. Black pepper plants begin to bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year and characteristically continue to do so for seven years. The cuttings are generally cultivars (variety of a plant formulated from a natural species and preserved under cultivation), selected both for output and its quality of fruit. A single stem is known to bear 20 to 30 fruiting black pepper spikes. Harvesting begins as soon as one or two berries at the base of the spikes start to appear red and before the fruit gets ripened, however only when full-grown and still hard. Such phenomenon is applied on black pepper because, if admitted to ripen, the berries lose the pungent factor and finally fall off and are mislaid forever. The spikes are gathered up and spread out to dry in the sun, after which the peppercorns are peeled off the spikes.
Black pepper possesses its own shape of being almost round in the first appearance, black to brownish in essential colouring. The spikes or fruits exhibit to be ready for harvest when they are entirely mature and start yellowing or just turn plain yellowish. At this stage, the whole spikes are removed from the vines with the help of ladders. The spikes are then preserved for a day or so, during which the berries are removed by rubbing or scrubbing and dried in the sun for a few days on mats or on hygienic and spotless concrete floors. They are turned over and over, after which the berries are removed by rubbing, threshing or trampling. When completely dry, the outer skin of the berries within Black pepper turns whole dark brown to black and begins to get shrivelled. Under normal circumstances, 100 kg of fresh berries generate approximately 26 to 39 kg of black pepper of commerce.
Black pepper has forever been deemed as the `King of Spices` in India; history of Black pepper since the pre-Christian era bears testimony to such facts, of course under strong and potent influence of the European voyages and invasions. Just by mere judging from the volume of the spice`s international trade, information comes out that this very rich aromatic flavoured crushed vine has been serving as the highest among all the spices known till date. It is believed that Europeans had staked into the `new world` primarily because of this spice, black pepper. India, during its historical past times, has supplied approximately 70 to 80 percent of this spice to the world trade, indeed astounding when coming to think about it earnestly.
Peppercorns (the rather much admired name of Black Pepper) are much frequently classified under a specific label, distinguishing their region or port of origin. Amongst the various dissimilar kinds of black pepper grown in the world and utilised wholly in cooking, two of the most recognised and celebrated types come from India`s Malabar Coast, comprising Malabar Grade pepper and Tellicherry pepper. Tellicherry is rather a high-graded pepper, earned from the biggest, maturest 10 percent of berries from Malabar plants, cultivated on Mount Tellicherry. In addition to black pepper, pepper is also sold in the processed forms, consisting of White Pepper and Processed Green Pepper. White and black peppers are readied and developed from the berries of the same plant or species. The only difference that exists, is that for developing black pepper, the spikes are harvested when the berries are fully mature, but unripe, i.e. when green or greenish yellow; however for readying white pepper, the harvesting of berries is delayed until they become ripe, i.e. yellowish red or red. White pepper is prepared by removing the outer pericarp of the harvested berries, either before or after drying. While undergoing this process, one of the following techniques is applied - water seeping technique, making use of ripe fresh berries or using dried berries, steaming or water boiling technique and, decortication technique.
Black pepper is one such spice that virtually can be utilised in every cooking and culinary medium and preparation, often yielding mouth-watering results. Indeed the Indian kitchen is almost void without its uses of black pepper! Known to have properties suiting both aromatic cuisine and medicinal values, the spice also is employed overseas.