From the land of spice and everything nice to every kitchen and restaurant across the globe, sitting right next to the salt shakers, Black pepper has had quite a journey!The pepper plant is indigenous to the Malabar region (present-day Kerala) in India. Kerala was considered the “Garden of Spice”, and rightly so. From Sumerians to Arabs, Greeks to Dutch all reached the shores of Kerala in search of tasty trade goods.
But the spice trade was far from a fairy tale, much like a bloody history of wars. In 600 BC, the Arabs controlled the spice trade. But with the death of Alexander the Great, the Greeks knocked down the gates of the spice garden. Rome flourished, but then they were attacked by barbarians. And for what? The spice of course. The Alaric King of Visigoths attacked Rome in 408 and demanded 5000 pounds of Gold, 4000 pounds of silver and a whopping 3000 pounds of black pepper! After all black pepper was the ‘King of Spices’.
Soon came Venetians with naval superiority dominated the distribution of pepper. They simply purchased the pepper from the Arabs and sold it in Europe. Interestingly, pepper was a status symbol back then, and only the rich could afford it. The reason being – a strategic move by the Arabs. A myth around the dangerous nature of pepper harvest and why the peppercorns are black in colour started circulating around Europe. Here is how the story goes – in the spice paradise there were enormous serpents guarding the pepper trees and the only way to get the peppercorn was by scorching the entire tree to get rid of the serpents. After which, the charred peppercorns were collected, and hence the colour black.
Funny enough, the story worked. The price for black pepper skyrocketed and was actually as valuable as gold! I can only imagine what it would be like if this were to be true today.
The Ottomans took over in 1452 AD and Venice’s naval control started dwindling. Spanish and Portuguese took a queue and gained control over the sea once again. The Portuguese sent Vasco Da Gama in search of India in the 1490s. He and his men landed in Kerala in 1498 shouting “for Christ and spices” and the rest is history!There’s no question the spice trade made a permanent impact on cuisines across the globe. The biggest contribution of this quest was the discovery of black pepper. Regardless of where it’s grown, all black pepper comes from the same plant species. Piper nigrum - perennial climbing vine of the family Piperaceae. Yet there is a significant difference in the taste. That’s where my quest began.
While pepper was grown in southern Asia, mainly in Thailand and Malaysia, its most important source has always been India, the Malabar Coast, in particular. So that’s where we headed!
When you taste as many peppercorns as I did on my journey to find the right one, I assure you, you can easily tell when black pepper is grown by a really skilled farmer! Of course, apart from the farmers, the actual taste can be attributed to the climate and the soil. Really good peppercorn is super intense and has complex notes which are completely missing from commodity spices.
Image courtesy : Pinterest
Our Malabar black pepper, as the name suggests, is grown in the Malabar region of Kerala. They have a unique sharp taste and are full of complex yet balanced aromas with accents of citrus, berries and resin. These are GI-tagged, premium graded peppercorns ranging from 4mm to 6mm. The essential oils are not extracted from these peppercorns and there is no addition of any adulterants. The warm spicy notes are perfect for savoury dishes.
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