Black Pepper

The history of pepper is essentially a story of the history of the European spice trade. So revered it is sometimes called the ‘King of Spices’. In origin, Black pepper is a tropical 'twining plant' from southern India. In the ancient world, the most important source of black pepper was India's Malabar Coast, the southwest coast of the country predominated by modern day Goa. These days black pepper is grown throughout all of South-East Asia. Though black pepper is a staple around the world, it was once so valuable it was used as currency. The spice was traded with nearby countries, eventually making its way throughout Asia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. Outside of Asia, only the richest could afford it.

Because of its rare grandeur, Black pepper was a major catalyst of the European "Age of Exploration" during the 15th and 16th centuries. Trade routes to India and other sources of coveted spices were extremely valuable, and the countries that controlled them controlled Venice's (and by proxy Europe's) economy. Tributes and Bribes were paid in pepper (both Attila the Hun and Alaric I the Visigoth demanded pepper as a substantial part of Rome’s ransom).

The Venice and Genoa monopoly of overland trade routes was the driving factor in the search for an Eastern sea route. By the end of the "Age of Exploration", pepper became so plentiful in Europe that people of average means became able to afford it.

The fruit of the Piper nigrum consists of small berries that start out green and become a deep red when fully ripe. The unripe fruit of the Piper nigrum are sometimes pickled in brine or vinegar. The pepper seeds contain a volatile oil and the non-volatile compound Piperin (Piperine is the compound that is responsible for the burning effect on the mucous membranes). When the half-ripened fruits are harvested the fruits are dried to become "black pepper".

Studies show that black pepper has the ability to increase the bioavailability (the amount of nutrients your body consumes from a food is called bioavailability) in a good portion of the foods we eat, thus making our unhealthy love of Pollo a la Brasa suddenly healthy. Black pepper is not the only product that can be made from green peppercorns: white pepper, green pepper, and pink pepper are all derived from Piper nigrum. Black pepper is made from the unripe, green fruit of the pepper plant, which is cooked in hot water, then dried. The hot water serves to clean the peppercorns and to rupture their skin, which speeds the work of browning enzymes as the fruit is dried. The peppercorns are dried either by machine or the natural sun. Black pepper gains its namesake when the fruit hardens during the drying process and the skin becomes dark and wrinkled.

Ground pepper loses its flavor quickly. Most chefs recommend grinding black pepper as needed. Your best bet is to coarsely grind immediately before adding it to food, in order to retain the most flavors. As is the care with many recipes in the world, coarsely ground black pepper is absolutely essential to any Pollo a la Brasa recipe. Inside and out it adds an earthy quality that cannot be matched or substituted. Thankfully it is so common that most of you probably don’t think about it, let alone its absolute necessity, but we guarantee a life without black peppers as hard to imagine as a life without salt. Like all spices, it must be used in balance with the recipe but....by all means...pass the pepper!

It is a popular ingredient in cosmetics. The compounds naturally present in the oil have been shown to act as antimicrobial and antifungal agents.

Where used as a spice, Huacatay leaves are choppped or pureed and used as the seasoning that give local dishes a unique herbal flavour. We've never made tea out of the stuff as the Incan's are said to have done, but maybe that'll be a future post.