November 18, 2023

Where Does Pepper Come From?

Black pepper is a spice that can be found in kitchens around the world. It’s also a very important plant that has had a significant impact on shaping modern civilization, which is why it’s often called “black gold”. But where does this spice come from?

The most commonly used type of pepper is made from the dried berries of the Piper nigrum vine. This vine is native to southern India’s Malabar coast, and its fruit gives this popular spice its name.

Its spicy heat comes from the chemical piperine, which binds to pain receptors in your mouth and throat. Peppercorns have a relatively low level of this chemical, which means that they’re not as intensely hot as the seeds of chili peppers.

By the time of Roman aristocracy, pepper was a very popular and expensive ingredient, and it was widely used in almost all recipes in the cookbook attributed to the Roman gourmet Apicius. In medieval Europe, it was still a staple of fine cooking and became a status symbol in the form of the prestigious spice trade.

Until recently, all pepper came from one small region of the world and was largely processed and shipped through the city of Venice by sea. This arrangement, along with the fact that it was an easy target for pirates, kept the price high and preserved its status as a luxury item.

Today, pepper is grown in nearly every tropical country. Vietnam grows and exports the most, but India, Brazil and China are also big producers. Middlemen, processors and wheeler-dealers obfuscate the supply chain, but recent efforts to make it more transparent have begun to increase quality and availability.

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