Tamilnadu is home to a variety of cuisines – Chettinad, Virudhunagar, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Tuticorin, Kongunadu and Nanjilnadu (Kanyakumari). Each cuisine gets its unique flavor from the use of exquisite spices, many of which are native to the region. A spice that is commonly added to all these 7 cuisines is Black pepper, commonly called ‘Milagu’ in Tamil. Dried and Ground Black pepper has been used since antiquity for both its flavor and therapeutic benefits.
Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family of Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit which is dried and used as a spice or seasoning. Black pepper is native to South India and it was introduced by the people of South East Asia around 2 BCE (Before Common Era). Kanyakumari, Nilgiris and Mahe in Pondicherry are the three important centers for Black pepper production in Tamilnadu. Malabar Coast in the state of Kerala was also an important centre of trade in Black pepper.
The word ‘pepper’ is ultimately derived from the Dravidian word for long pepper, Pippali. Ancient Greek and Latin changed the spelling of pippali into Latin word Piper which was used by Romans to refer both black and long pepper. The English word for pepper is derived from the old English word pipor. ‘Pepper’ was used in a figurative sense to mean ‘Spirit’ or ‘Energy’ as far back as 1840’s. In the 20th century it got shortened to pep.
It is called Kali Mirchi in Hindi, Hapusha in Sanskrit, Milagu in Tamil, Miriyalu in Telugu and Nallamaluku in Malayalam.
BLACK PEPPER – PREPARATION
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is obtained from the green unripe fruits of the pepper plant. The fruits are briefly cooked in hot water both to clean and prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures the cell wall in pepper and acts as a catalyst for the brown enzymes production during the drying process. These fruits are then dried in the Sun or by machine for a few days. The seed coat shrinks and darkens to a thin and wrinkled black layer. This dried up spice is called Black peppercorn and is widely available as well as exported in this form.
It’s spirit and pepper oil are extracted from these black peppercorns by crushing them. The former is used in famous beverages like Coca-Cola while the latter is used in ayurvedic massage oil and certain herbal and beauty treatments.
TYPES & BENEFITS
There are 3 more types in addition to Black Pepper – Green Pepper, Red Pepper and White Pepper. Green and Red Peppers are obtained from the unripe fruits of their respective plants and their manufacturing process is same as Black Pepper. But for White Pepper, the seeds of the unripe green fruit are used after the dark colored skin is removed, which is accomplished by the process called Retting. It is the process of decomposition of the outer layer of the fruit after soaking it in water.
The burning sensation in black pepper is mainly because of the presence of alkaloid irritants Piperine, Chavacine and Piperidine, which are found in the inner core of the peppercorn. Piperine present in Black pepper is a thermogenic compound (generates heat energy). It enhances the energy production from fats and accelerates body metabolism. It is also a relaxant as it aids in increased serotonin and beta-endorphin production in the brain.
A HANDY HOME REMEDY
Black pepper is believed to cure illnesses such as constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene (death of body tissues), indigestion, tooth decay, oral abscesses and tooth aches. It helps to increase simulation of digestive acids like Hydrochloric acid in the stomach for effective digestion.
Black pepper (1/4 teaspoon) when mixed with ginger (1/4 teaspoon), honey (1 tablespoon), water (2 tablespoon) and vinegar (1 tablespoon) provides a soothing and significant relief to sore throat, persistent cough and cold.
Externally it has been applied in paste form to boils and to treat hair loss and some skin diseases.
A mixture of sesame oil and powdered black pepper is described as an application for areas affected by paralysis.
A mixture of black pepper and honey is regarded as a remedy for night blindness.
In comatose patients, black pepper has been given by inhalation. It is also believed to be useful in hepatitis, urinary and reproductive disorders.
In Ayurveda and Siddha medicine, a paste made using white pepper is applied to treat eye diseases.
Black and White peppers easily lose their aroma and flavor through evaporation and exposure to sunlight so air tight storage helps preserve pepper’s spiciness longer.
In addition to giving an exotic flavor to the South Indian dishes, Pepper also adds flavor to international cuisine. Thai preparations like Satay (diced/sliced meat), hot basil salad and spicy noodles contain a strong flavor of black pepper. Italy adds pepper mixed with red chilli powder, paprika to savor dishes like pizzas and burritos. Although preferred in savory foods, this spice is also used in tiny quantities in sweet preparations like fruitcakes, breads, pies to add a spicy note.
Pepper is ubiquitous in the industrialized world commonly paired with table salt. By monetary value, Black pepper is the most widely traded spice in the world, accounting for 20 percent of all spice imports in 2002.