The humble, second-best seasoning found on every dinner table may well be underestimated, but it has helped to shape the world as we know it.
Soon after 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), one Vasco da Gama set sail and rounded the Cape of Good Hope bound for the East Indies. The Indies, land of the fabled spices wherein lurked pepper – the punchy ingredient that would drive men, build and destroy empires, open up the whole world, and transform it into the global village we know today. Yes, the journey had begun.
Da Gama landed in Calicut in 1497, and legend tells the story that after stating he came ‘in search of Christians and spices’, he promptly focused on the spices! His discovery of an alternate route to India and the subsequent strike of his peppery goldmine marked the start of a hugely lucrative but short-lived Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade. Battles royal ensued, with consequences reaching as far as the Baltics and Venice as various merchants, countries and traders all fought for their slice of the pie. Or for their grains of the pepper, as it were.
Refrigeration was still decades away, and salt was actually the real preservative, but pepper was in hot demand. People needed to spice up their lives. And why not? Childhood memories come to mind of exceptionally boring lunchtimes where consumption of the entire contents of a kind host’s pepperpot was the only way to relieve the tedium, but of course, there are much better uses and many types of pepper, including black, white, pink, red and green.
- Black is by far the most common; in fact, it is likely what you have in your pepper shaker right now, and is produced from the still-green, unripe drupe of the pepper plant.
- White pepper consists solely of the seed of the ripe fruit of the pepper plant.
- Ground white pepper is commonly used in Chinese, Thai, and Portuguese cuisines.
- Green pepper, like black pepper, is made from unripe drupes.
- Red peppercorns usually consist of ripe peppercorn drupes preserved in brine and vinegar.
- Pink peppercorns are the fruit of the Peruvian pepper tree.
So, give yourself a pep-talk and elevate the second-best spice to your next best friend in the kitchen.