Focus on black pepper

Focus on black pepper
Most of us season our food with salt and pepper on a daily basis. Salt shakers and pepper grinders are found on most of our dinner tables. But how much do we really know about pepper? What are its origins, how is it processed, what different kinds of pepper are there? Are there any heath benefits to this common seasoning? What are some different flavor combinations that we might want to try?

What is black pepper, and where does it come from?

Black pepper is actually the dried fruit of the Piper nigrum plant, which is native to India. Black, green, and white peppercorns all actually come from the same plant. Black peppercorns are cooked and dried unripe fruit from the plant, green peppercorns are dried unripe fruit, and white peppercorns are the ripe fruit seeds. Peppercorns and chili peppers do not originate from the same plants. Ancient Romans incorrectly thought that they did come from the same plant, and used the Latin word “piper” to describe both, from which the word “pepper” is derived. Black pepper was known in Ancient Greece at least as early as the 4th century BCE. Today, Vietnam is actually the largest producing and exporting country of black pepper.

Health benefits of black pepper

Folk medicine holds black pepper as a treatment in a variety of illnesses from earache to insomnia to liver disease. Black pepper is widely used in traditional Indian medicine as a home remedy for sore throat.  Modern medicine is also starting to look at possible health benefits of this humble seasoning. A recent University of Michigan study suggests that the compound piperine in black pepper may help to prevent breast cancer tumors. Black pepper can also act as a natural decongestant, so eating lots of black pepper when you have a cold can help clear your nasal passages.

Unique ways to flavor with black pepper

Want to try some different flavor combinations with black pepper? It’s an obvious companion with salt on most savory foods, but it can help enrich the flavor of some sweet foods as well. In Page and Dorenburg’s The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, star chefs suggest pairing pepper with all kinds of fresh fruit, including apricots, berries, and pineapple. They also suggest trying it in spice cake and pumpkin pie. It’s great wherever you want a warming spice that gives a slight amount of heat. Chefs suggest adding it at the end of the cooking process for best results.

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