Thursday, 2 July 2015

Green & Red...Black & White

Green and Red! 

Black and White!

...... Guess what I am talking about? 

Traffic signals and newspapers....?

Pshychedelic lights and Old photographs......?

Ha ha, none of the above.  This post is about the world’s most traded spice, the king of spices – Black Pepper.  Once known as ‘Black Gold’ , pepper was used as currency  during the Roman Empire.  The elite Romans had acquired a taste for this tongue-tingling spice and ships laden with pepper would sail the seas from the Malabar coast of India, traverse some part of the route by land and finally reach the great Empire of Rome.

Apparently the Roman Philospher ‘Pliny the Elder’ has been documented to have complained that there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces!  WOW That must have been  a lot of money in those days!

The first pepper season after we moved to the  farm was indeed very exciting for us.  We watched with awe as the pepper plants flowered – thin, delicate looking white flowers that ultimately grow into the beautiful green berries.  
Delicate Pepper Inflorescence
Tender green pepper
We feasted on tender green pepper in brine and waited eagerly for ‘Harvest day’.  How do you decide when exactly is the pepper ready for harvest?  Well the green berries actually start ripening on the vine and turn a brilliant attractive red.  And when a few of them on each plant start ripening, you know it is time to harvest them. The berries are clumped around a central stem and the entire clump is called a ‘Spike’.  Each pepper vine bears anything between 10 to probably a 500 spikes depending on the age and health of the plant. Each spike of pepper is hand plucked into a basket. A precise tug in the right direction is what is needed. I ended up breaking parts of the vine initially, got my nails all dirtied trying to snip it off with my thumbnail, wasted a lot of time trying to use a cutter, while Vivek and our farm hand  steadily worked their way up their ladders, their baskets filling up with green and red spikes of pepper. 

So each day in the second fortnight of January, our front yard has heaps of the pepper berries. The next task is separating the berries from the central stem. The traditional method of stamping them with bare feet somehow did not seem a nice way to do it, so we opted to separate it by hand. The berries fall off quite easily and it is also easier to separate out the red berries. 
Those berries that have turned red, are squishy soft, but with a hard centre seed. This hard centre seed is the exotic ‘White pepper’   used in French and other continental cuisine. So we need to separate out the reds, soak them in water, rub them around, wash them several times over and then sun-dry to get the good quality white pepper. So that is how the reds turn to white!
White Pepper

   As for the rest of the green berries, a hot water soak for a few minutes, drain and sun-dry, turns them into the wrinkled ‘black pepper of commerce’.  And that is how green turns to black!

The hot water soaking also  helps to remove any impurities, bits of the stem etc. So then, the  last task is to separate the very small pepper – from the regular sized ones. We do this with a sieve, and the small ones, small they may be, but they sure pack a punch, are stored separately to turn into fragrant pepper powder whenever we need.

And the medicinal benefits of pepper are surely worth a mention.  It aids digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties, contains anti-oxidants and helps clear a runny nose and sore throat.

Here is a simple recipe for a herbal tea (Kashaya) which works wonders on a runny nose and sore throat –

One small onion (preferably white) sliced lengthwise.

3-4 Tulsi leaves.

2-3 Ova leaves.

A small piece of ginger crushed.

A pinch of turmeric.

3-4 Black peppercorns freshly crushed

A small lump of jaggery.

Boil all the above ingredients in a cup of  water until reduced to 3/4th cup. Drink it hot.

And remember the active ingredient – the health benefitting essential oil – piperine is volatile, so store your peppers in airtight bottles and as far as possible, use freshly ground pepper.

So the next time you reach out for pepper to add to your cooking, remember the myriad benefits of this little seed!
Visit to discover Indian blogs