Our bodies require salt for survival, but I honest-to-goodness could not live without freshly ground black pepper. And while salt gets a lot of attention these days — with its fancy French names, people smoking it, people infusing it — we don’t talk much about trusty, often underappreciated peppercorn.
Alison Spiegel at Huffington Post agreed and recently wrote a superb summary of “Everything You Need To Know About Peppercorns, The Most Widely Used Spice In The World.” Here are the 10 things she thinks you should know:
- Peppercorns are actually dried fruits that grow on vines.
- Pepper has been used since at least 2,000 BC and originated in India.
- Peppercorns come in many colors: Green (dried, unripe fruits), black (cooked, dried fruits), white (not fully ripe fruits with their skins removed), and red (from fully mature fruit).
- Most peppercorn comes from Vietnam, followed by India, Brazil, and Indonesia.
- In the middle ages, pepper was used as currency — as valuable as gold.
- We’ve used black pepper to treat medical conditions, like digestive problems and pain, for centuries.
- Apparently Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II liked peppercorns too. He was allegedly buried with them stuffed up his nose.
- An alkaloid named piperine is responsible for pepper making you sneeze. It irritates the nasal nerve endings, compelling you to expel the chemical.
- Pepper is the most widely traded spice in the world.
- Most importantly: Always use freshly ground pepper! It kicks pre-ground pepper’s butt.
You can read the entire article, complete with beautiful photos, on the Huffington Post website.
If You Aren’t Grinding Your Own Pepper, Here’s What You Should Do
One: Get out today and buy black peppercorns from a reputable source. I favor the India Special Extra Bold Black pepper from Penzey’s. Consider also buying peppercorns in other colors. Each has a distinct taste, and they can be used in combination.
Two: Buy yourself a wicked good pepper mill with the ability to adjust the coarseness of the grind. I inherited a Turkish brass mill that works like a machine. I’m now planning to buy a small travel mill so I never need be without my favorite spice.
Three: Start cracking. Try different grinds. I love a good dose of coarse ground black pepper on almost anything I eat. You can get a super-duper coarseness by putting the peppercorns in a plastic bag and smashing them with a heavy skillet or rolling pin. (The rolling pin method is quite therapeutic.) This is called cracked black pepper and is essential for a good steak au poivre. It also makes homemade barbecue sauce zing.
Four: Make some Cacio e Pepe — a pasta dish that celebrates peppercorns. It’s an easy-to-prepare dish and a favorite in our house.
Five: Leave comments below to let us know if you’ve made the switch from that nasty, pre-ground, black dust to the sexiest spice in the world. What do you think? Isn’t it awesome?
Image Credit: Peppercorns via Shutterstock