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Tips on Pepper, the Worlds' Most Popular Spice

Recognized as the worlds' most popular spice, pepper was once so rare and valuable, it was sometimes used as currency.

A major commodity in Europe during the Middle Ages, pepper was not only used as a seasoning, but also as a preservative and as a medicine.

The pungent spice comes from berries produced by a perennial climbing evergreen vine called Piper nigrum, a native plant to India and Indonesia. Although pepper has been noted in writings that are over 3,000 years old, the cultivation of pepper began in Indonesia around 100 B.C.

The berry is processed to produce three basic types of peppercorn — black, white and green. For black peppercorns, the most common of the three, berries are picked while still green and then dried, causing the skin to shrivel and change to a deep brown or black, while the core remains light in color. It is the strongest flavored of the three. White peppercorns are produced from mature berries. After harvesting, their skins are removed and the berries are dried. The result is a smaller peppercorn that is light-tan in color with a milder flavor. White pepper is most often used for its appearance, or lack thereof, in light-colored sauces or foods where dark specks of black pepper would undesirably stand out. The green peppercorn is the soft, under-ripe berry that's usually preserved in brine. It has a fresh flavor that's less pungent than the black or white peppercorn.

With its variety of forms, pepper is used to enhance the flavor of both savory and sweet dishes. Because it stimulates gastric juices, it delivers a digestive bonus as well. With all the pleasure and benefit pepper provides, it's no wonder that it is the worlds' most popular spice!

Pepper Tips:

Freshly ground pepper has a sharper, more lively flavor than the pre-ground variety.

Whole dried peppercorns can be stored in a cool, dark place for about a year; ground pepper will keep its flavor for about 4 months.

To avoid flavor loss, store ground pepper in a cool, dry place.

When purchasing a pepper mill (a hand-held grinder), look for one that can be adjusted to produce fine or coarse grinds.

An electric spice or coffee grinder comes in handy to easily grind peppercorns in larger quantities, when needed.

Remember, the finer the grind, the shorter the storage life for ground pepper.

Perfectly Peppered Recipes:


Article by Hope Pryor. Copyright © Hope Pryor; property of CooksRecipes.com.

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