Pepper has a fine quality, which when used with discretion, is the secret ingredient of excellence. Added at the end of cooking, it adds depth, aroma and taste, but remains largely hidden amongst the other ingredients, incognito, like a dark and silent ingredient more likely to be used by witches.
Whatever you say about it, pepper has little to be envious of chilli. The piper nigrum, from the Sanskrit pippali, is the plant whose fruit seed is harvested to make both green pepper (unripe and dried), black pepper (unripe, cooked and dried) and also white pepper (ripened, skinned and dried).
Originally native to Kerala in South India and the surrounding areas, it then crossed borders for the first time more than two thousand years ago along the Silk Route passing through the hands of merchants, cooks and apothecaries reaching as far afield as Portugal where it made many people rich thanks to the huge gap between the purchase price in India and final price on the stalls of European markets, not too differently from what still happens today.
Listed among the most popular spices in Ayurveda, pepper has been used by Western apothecaries and herbalists since Roman times, when it was recommended in the preparation of love potions for its invigorating berries. It is a spice that is ancient, regal, even somewhat maverick; capable of enriching everything it touches. In some ways it is more aristocratic and refined than the chilli pepper; also suitable for the more sensitive palates, but far less famous and less exploited today, despite the success that spices are currently experiencing in contemporary cuisine.
In addition to oleoresins, essential oils, glycosides and polysaccharides, Piper Nigrum also contains piperine, an alkaloid which promotes the absorption of nutrients by increasing bioavailability and thus enhancing the beneficial effect. This has and still does make it an eclectic, fundamental spice for Industry, both in the food and nutrition sectors.
Cubeb, long pepper, wild pepper and pink pepper are also commonly identified as “pepper” but in reality are imposters; fake peppers or aromatic berries with a pungent and persistent sensorial profile like that of real pepper. One of the widest used blends is creole, a mix of pepper and fake peppers adapted for use on meat and in processed meats.
The sensorial profile of the pepper is characterised and varies according to it’s origins. The food industry knows well the difference between the aromatic profiles of Brazilian black pepper and the famous TGEB pepper of Indian origin, where the percentage of piperine makes the difference from a nutraceutical point of view. The aromatic profile of Indian pepper is more pungent and persistent, whilst Brazilian pepper is warmer and rounder. These differences, combined with the organoleptic properties and the advantages of piperine, make TGEB one of the most in demand on the market today. It’s also worth remembering that the balance of quality and price should be compatible with the needs of producers and importers, in order to reduce the presence of low quality spices on the market, that do not guarantee the health of the consumer, nor create a sustainable economic exchange between importing and producing countries.