Ceylon Black Pepper
Hailed as the king of spices, pepper, the most consumed spice in the world, is taken from the berries (or from ‘drupes’ to use its exact botanical name) of the plant Piper nigrum which is native to the Malabar Coast in the Indian state of Kerala. Sri Lanka produces and exports black pepper but Sri Lankan black pepper suppliers satisfy only 2% of the global demand for pepper.
Ceylon Pepper is particularly favoured worldwide as it is quite rich in piperine, the alkaloid which lends it a distinct pungency. As a result, Ceylon Pepper from Sri Lanka fetches a premium price in the international spice market. Black pepper is widely used as a ‘hot’ cooking spice and seasoning. The taste of Sri Lankan black pepper is richly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes, while retaining a strong pungency. Extracts of black pepper - Piperine, oleoresin and essential oil- are also extracted from the whole drupes, and have applications as both spice and flavouring agents in the food industry, and also major industrial applications in the perfumery and the pharmaceutical industry.
Depending on the time of harvest and the post-harvest process, there can be different types of pepper: green pepper, black pepper, red pepper and white pepper. For black pepper, the Piper nigrum berries are harvested when green and slightly immature, then it’s blanched and sun-dried. This makes it very rich in essential oil. The black colour results from the oxidation that occurs during drying.
Black Pepper Cultivation in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, pepper or the woody perennial evergreen climbing vine, Piper nigrum, is cultivated over an area of 32800 hectares and majorly in the districts of Matale, Kandy, Kegalle, and Kurunegala where it’s grown either as a mono-crop or a mixed crop in coconut and tea plantations using live or dead stands as support. It’s also ideal for home gardens.
Today, pure origin pepper enjoys a huge demand internationally, and the public is keener to discover spices that originate from a specific “terroir” just like wines. Ceylon Pepper is mainly exported to India, Germany and the USA and enjoys a growing demand from Australia and Canada.
Delving into The History
Piper nigrum has its roots in the Malabar Coast in the Indian state of Kerala, from where it was traded from ancient times: peppercorns were discovered in the nostrils of Ramses (around 1300 BC), put there when he was mummified. Romans used it in galore - in the Apicius, Roman cookbook probably compiled in 1st century AD, most of the recipes include black pepper.
Arabs merchants had the monopoly of pepper trade from India for centuries, with Venice and Genoa being the intermediaries for trade into Europe. This monopoly eventually spurred on adventurers like Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan, to explore and find new routes toward the spice lands in the East and contributed to transforming the whole geography of the world at the time.
Ceylon Black Pepper in The Kitchen
Pepper is used mainly as a finishing touch on dishes, to add pungency and aroma to meat, fish and vegetables. Black peppercorns from Sri Lanka carry a strong floral flavour, perfect on meat but also sautéed and roasted vegetables. Grinding fresh peppercorns is essential for flavour and aroma, as pre-ground pepper is often stale and quickly loses its volatile oils and its properties.
Black Pepper Food Pairings
Black pepper can be freshly sprinkled on almost every dish, but according to flavour profiles, it matches astonishingly well with the following products
- Spices – Cardamom, coriander, cumin, clove, turmeric, star anise, nutmeg
- Seasonings and herbs – Basil, citrus juice and zest, thyme, rosemary, cilantro
- Fruits Vegetables – Onion, grilled vegetables, root vegetables
- Proteins – Beef, charcuterie, beans and lentils
- Other – Pasta, dairy
Medicinal Value of Black Pepper
Black pepper is a warming spice according to Ayurveda. It was administered to patients who suffered from such ailments as diarrhoea, constipation, arthritis, insect bites, and pulmonary and cardiovascular troubles. It also whets appetite and digestion, and it is good as a decongestant for a blocked nose.
It is often used in combination with other spices since Piperine increases the bio-availability of many nutrients (such as selenium, beta-carotene, curcumin and vitamins A and C). That’s why it is always recommended to add a pinch of black pepper in turmeric preparation and dishes to better absorb curcumin.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine, pepper is identified as a spice capable of warming the body, used to fight cold and dissolve phlegm. In combination with other warming spices like ginger and cinnamon, it can be used in infusions to treat cold and flu.
It also helps the secretion of digestive enzymes in the pancreas and speeds up the intestinal transit (a slow transit is often associated with many health problems).