Pepper is one of the top 3 most used ingredients in any kitchen and its distinct spicy flavour is familiar to anyone who has eaten meat, potatoes or soup. But even though it’s common and inexpensive, there may be a few things you didn’t know about one of the world’s most popular spices.
Pepper is extracted from the Piper nigrum plant, belonging to the Pieraceae genus, a family of tropical plants encompassing approximately 1400 species. It is one of the most commonly used spices in European cuisine, but it also has notable uses in traditional medicine.
The spiciness in pepper is provided by a chemical known as piperine, unlike the fleshy peppers which get their spiciness from capsaicin. That being said, what we know as Cayenne pepper or chilli pepper is the dried and ground form of their namesake fleshy peppers.
1. Pepper used to be a luxury item
Nowadays, it’s unlikely to find a kitchen without pepper. Some sources trace it back to South Asia, about 4000 years ago, where it was considered a precious and valuable item. Black peppercorns have also been found in the nostrils of Ramses II, as part of the mummification procedures.
Pepper is currently the most widely traded spice in the world, but centuries ago it was nearly as rare and expensive as gold and was considered a symbol of fortune and wealth.
2. The different colours of pepper come from the same plant
For a long time it was believed that white pepper and black pepper have different origins, but the truth is all varieties of pepper come from the same plant, Piper nigrum.
The differences in colour and flavour come from the level of ripeness and processing. Black pepper comes from the cooked and dried unripe fruit, green pepper, from the dried unripe fruit and white pepper from the ripe fruit seeds.
3. There are only three kinds of true pepper
You may have heard of rose pepper, red pepper, chilli pepper or Cayenne pepper, but these come from different plants, such as fleshy peppers (chilli, Cayenne), or in the case of rose pepper, the Schinus terebinthifolius plant, from the cashew family.
The only kinds of pepper that come from the Piper nigrum plant are black, green and white.
The situation is similar to that of the tea tree, which yields black, white, green and red tea, while the name “tea” is used interchangeably for any plant infusion.
4. Pepper can help you lose weight
Due to its strong spicy aroma, pepper stimulates appetite, but it may also help you shave off some extra pounds. Research has shown that the phytonutrients in pepper help breakdown fats, while piperine inhibits the accumulation of fat in the body.
It also has diuretic and diaphoretic properties, which can help prevent water retention and encourage the elimination of excess water.
5. It’s rich in nutrients
Pepper does more than just add flavour to your meals, it can also be a valuable dietary supplement. One tablespoon of black pepper contains moderate amounts of vitamin K, iron, and manganese, and trace amounts of other nutrients, fibre and protein.