Fragrantly pungent, strong, spicy and warming, black pepper (Piper nigrum) has been cultivated at least since 2000 BC in India and is in fact, indigenous only to Kerala, a province in southwest India. Today, however, these flowering climbing vines are grown throughout the tropics including Vietnam, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Indonesia and Madagascar.
There’s a variety of differently coloured peppers on the market but what you may not know is that green peppercorns are simply unripened black pepper berries, and white peppercorns have had the black skins removed, resulting in a milder, less pungently flavoured pepper.
Black pepper, the ‘King of Spices’, is the world’s most traded spice, accounting for one fifth of the world’s spice trade. Traded since 1000 BC; pepper was so hugely valuable it took the place of currency, being used to pay off taxes, rent and even dowries were sometimes paid in pepper. When Rome was besieged by the Visigoths in 408 CE, 3,000 pounds of peppercorns were part of the ransom paid for the city’s release. Little wonder then, it earned the title ‘Black Gold.’
In an attempt to maintain their monopoly and keep their sources and trade routes secret, early Arab traders created elaborate myths that this highly prized spice was cultivated in groves of trees guarded by poisonous serpents.
In order to harvest the pepper, the trees have to be burned, driving the snakes away and in the process turning the originally white fruit black.
FIRST CLASS QUALITY & TASTE DELIVERED BY SMALL FARMERS
These days, no such hazards stand in the way of getting black pepper on our dining tables. Rather than being supplied by large, commercial enterprises, we’ve chosen to source ours exclusively from small independent co-operative farmers in Madagascar, where the berries are hand-harvested and sorted. Our supplier has a direct presence in the villages which enables support and development ensuring the co-operatives thrive.
Here, the island’s hot, humid, tropical climate and rich fertile soil creates a terroir that makes for luxuriously aromatic pepper berries that pop satisfyingly when cracked and have a resinous aroma of warm brioche and fresh notes of sharp green fruits. We’ve carefully selected the size of the berry to provide an optimum grind.
Black pepper does more than just add spiciness and heat to food, it’s long been understood to have healing properties too:
WHY IS SALT ALWAYS PARTNERED WITH PEPPER?
While salt is a flavour enhancer, pepper is something completely different; it adds flavour as a spice. Salt is so necessary to human health and well-being, our tastebuds are attuned to being receptive to the taste making it a natural choice to use salt as a culinary seasoning. So why is it that salt got to be partnered with pepper and not with any of the other myriad spices available? It could just as easily have been salt and cumin or salt and coriander.
History tells us that the enduring marriage of salt and pepper may have had its origins in the French court of Louis XIV in the 17th century. Louis XIV was a finicky diner and detested highly seasoned food, considering it to be vulgar. In fact, it’s said he banned all eastern spices from the royal kitchens permitting only salt, black pepper and parsley. He declared pepper, the king of spices, to be the only spice that didn’t overpower the true taste of food and therefore to be the only spice fit for a king.
The French of course, have had a huge culinary influence in the Western world and so salt and pepper have become the iconic couple we know so well.
A final word on the best way to eat black pepper. Whole, dried peppercorns keep well and have a relatively long shelf life of about 18 months, however their volatile oils evaporate quickly after grinding, affecting the freshness and evocative pungency of their flavour. Black pepper – like coffee - should always be freshly ground.
Oryx Black Pepper grinders and refill packs are available in all Pick ‘n’ Pay stores, selected Woolworths stores and in all good deli’s and farmstalls countrywide.
Our enduring message is refill, not landfill. Our ceramic grinder heads are long-lasting and our grinders can be refilled at least 10 times if not more. Each Black Pepper refill box will refill your grinder twice and you’re also contributing to sustainability.
Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with our products, latest news and promotions.