Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Pepper is beneficial for Your Health

Called The King Of Spices, Pepper has been around 4,000 years and has been causing problems for most of that time. Discovered in West India, it was a medium of exchange. It was a tribute paid to cool down people like Attila the Hun, but mostly it was responsible for opening up the world and starting the spice trade and creating empires like the British, the French, the Dutch...
Nomadic Arabs took it from Malabar Coast in South West India to the Phoenicians, who took pepper to the Western world. The Greeks came next when they discovered monsoon winds and cut the voyage from the Mediterranean to India from two years to one.
While the Greeks used pepper for medicinal purposes, the Romans went wild with pepper and a special market The Via Piperatica was opened.
With the crusades, pepper started coming into Europe with frequency through Venice and the Venetians could name
their price for the spice. Then came the turn of the Portuguese led by
Vasco da Gama and their pepper prices rivaled the Venetians.
Which is when everyone got into the act.
East India companies were formed. The Dutch East India company, The British East India company and The French East India company. The result? The price of pepper went down. But not enough.
Dock workers weren’t allowed to have pockets or cuffs to prevent them
from hiding a peppercorn or two. Rent could be paid in peppercorns and at times it was more precious than gold. Families put pepper
in their daughters dowry and down-on-their-luck nobles married beneath their class for pepper.
Christopher Columbus set off to find pepper in the New World and came back with chilies, which he and through him everyone called peppers, a confusion that exists to this day.
Pepper come in four colours depending on their maturity. Black pepper, whole red peppercorns sold dried — very strong and pungent. Green pepper, unripe peppercorns sold dried or pickled in vinegar or brine — less pungent and more fruity.
White pepper, ripe peppercorns with the outer husk, removed by rubbing in salt water — less spicy and particularly suitable for seasoning white sauces. Grey pepper, a mixture of black and white pepper.
Several dishes take their name and character from pepper — the steak au poivre or steak with pepper sauce, the German Pfefferkuchen (gingerbread, literally pepper cake) and the Dutch ‘pepper pot’ (a spicy ragout of mutton with onion). Whenever a recipe states ‘adjust the seasoning’, salt and pepper are added at the discretion of the cook.

Pepper is required in practically all savoury dishes, whether they are served hot or cold. Whole peppercorns are used in court-bouillons, marinades, and pickles: crushed pepper for grills, forcemeats, and hashes: and freshly ground pepper for salads and cooked dishes.
A ‘turn of the pepper mill’ produces a very spicy fresh seasoning whereas a ‘pinch of pepper’ gives a more
discreet flavour to sauces and stews. Green peppercorns are used in specific dishes, such as fish terrines and avocado salad.
A cautionary tale to end the pepper trail. Apicius, a well-known Roman gourmet, wrote 10 books on the art of cooking most of his recipes including desserts, ended with “Sprinkle with pepper and salt”. Apicius’ banquets drove him bankrupt and rather than not give parties, he committed suicide.
But even after 4,000 years, there is an imperfection.
I have yet to come across a pepper grinder or shaker that works for any length of time. Perhaps 4,000 years is not enough for pepper perfection.