Fresh Pepper a Culinary Treat
Picture this: You are at a restaurant. Here comes the waitress now. She is holding a tray, and upon it is a glorious salad of crisp lettuce, baby spinach leaves, just a touch of grated cabbage, some grape tomatoes, olives, purple onion (if you don’t like onions, disregard this), egg wedges, feta cheese, bacon bits, and some blue cheese dressing with large chunks of delicious and imported blue cheese in the dressing. She sets it down right in front of you, and then she asks you if you would like some freshly-cracked black peppercorns on it. Oh my! And you know what is to come after that…
What is it about pepper that so delights us? Why is it the crowning touch to so many dishes? What are the qualities of pepper that make it essential we include it in our cuisine?
Piper nigrum: Its Constitution and Its Sources
Wikibooks says, “Black pepper is a seasoning produced from the fermented, dried, unripe red berries of the plant Piper nigrum.1”
Black pepper is not as hot as many varieties of pepper, but what heat it does possess is mostly from a compound called piperine.
Wikipedia informs us as to peppercorns, “The outer fruit layer, left on black pepper, also contains important odour-contributing terpenes including pinene, sabinene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool, which give citrusy, woody, and floral notes.”
Exposure to air allows evaporation of the treasured volatile substances that give the fresh aroma of peppercorns. Light affects peppercorns by converting piperine into the nearly tasteless isochaverine. Both air and light are thus to be avoided. Pepper is best if grated at the point of use.
Although pepper is native to South India, Vietnam has recently become the largest producer and exporter of black pepper.
Perhaps you have heard of white pepper, the so-called “old people’s pepper?” This is the same as black pepper, except the fruit around the seed is removed, and only the seed is used in making white pepper.
Pepper is rich in manganese, Vitamin K, iron, and fiber. It lessens intestinal gas, and, in addition, it may stimulate the breakdown of fat cells. 2
A list of chemicals found in black pepper may be seen here.
One final note… When you were a child, you may not have appreciated pepper at all. But now, as an adult, if you sink your teeth into an ear of sweet corn all slathered in molten butter and sprinkled with salt, is it not better with the distinctly spicy aromaticity of freshly ground black peppercorns? Again, what is better than a plate of hot, steaming succotash with butter, salt, and pepper? Admit it: you know of nothing! Such a versatile spice, the Piper nigrum, is not only unique. It is irreplaceable!