It’s almost impossible to believe that a spice could change the trajectory of world history and events – but the fact is that pepper is indeed that spice.
For thousands of years, this diminutive dried berry has been the reason behind hazardous sea and land voyages, discovery of new continents and countries and the establishment of new sea and trade routes. Entire civilizations have been subjugated to centuries of colonial rule once the door-way was opened up to the spice trade; pepper was used as a king’s ransom, as currency and as medicine. Wars were won and lost, fortunes were made and even today, pepper is the basis of a unique stock exchange where millions of dollars change hands annually. In fact in medieval times, the cost of imported pepper in Europe was nearly 700 times its buying price! Yale University was founded on wealth generated from the spice trade.
The peppercorn is truly Black Gold. This delicate climbing vine which thrives in humid conditions of tropical coastal south India and in other parts of the world is a hardy perennial that doesn’t need to be molly-coddled. It cannot however tolerate frost, cold or dryness. All it requires is the right amount of light and shade, drainage, rich soil and humid weather. About 8-9 months after the berries or fruits begin to appear, growing in clusters along the vine. They should be picked at the right time to retain their flavor and pungency usually during the dryer months of January-March. They are then immersed in boiling water, cleaned and spread to dry naturally under the sun. These can be pounded, ground, de-husked or used whole in cooking and traditional medicine.
Tellicherry in the southwestern region of India is the ideal location. The Tellicherry peppercorn is known to be the best variety and is prized for its unmistakable “bite” and pungency and has become the benchmark for measuring the flavor of other varieties of black pepper. This is because of the way it is left to ripen for longer on the plant and can thus grow to a larger size of nearly 5mm. The “garbled” or sorted and sifted Tellicherry pepper is cleaned of impurities and ready for sale and transportation. Pepper can also be grown as a mixed-plantation crop along with arecanut, coffee, cardamom, mandarin oranges etc.
The distinctive piquant, yet mild and aromatic flavor of pepper lends itself to be used in almost all the cuisines of the world. It is also used extensively in the meat industry. As a medicine, Tellicherry peppercorns are used to aid digestion, increase appetite, treat colds and lung infections, arthritis, heart-disease, weight-loss, tooth and gum problems, sports massages etc and many cultures in the world use it in their own traditional medicine and therapies.
Tellicherry peppercorns make ideal gifts, souvenirs and are a great complement to any kind of cuisine.