Scientific Name: Piper Nigrum
Plant Part: Fruit
Other Names: Kali Mirch, Hu Jiao, Poivre, Pepe, Pfeffer, Pimenta, Peper Groente
Pepper also known as black gold, or queen of spices, is a native plant of the Western Ghats, South of India, also known as the Malabar Coast.
Piperine is the main compound that is responsible for the pungent taste of the spice and peppercorns can come in different colours including white, black, and green depending on the stage at which they are harvested and the post-harvesting practices utilised.
Although early European depictions of the plant show pepper to be growing on trees, it is actually a perennial vine with clusters of green berries or peppercorns emerging as fruits.
The pepper vine can grow up to 10 meters in height with the help of aerial roots and has shiny green leaves that are alternately arranged.
Pepper is a plant of humid tropics requiring high rainfall and can also be found in Brazil, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Vietnam is currently the largest producer of pepper in the world followed by Indonesia, India, Brazil, and China.
History of Pepper
Pepper was originally discovered as a wild plant growing in the Malabar region of India and then brought into cultivation by humans thousands of years ago. The two species that were grown at that time were long pepper and black pepper.
The earliest accounts of pepper being used as a medicine date back to at least 3000 years ago in ayurvedic medicine.
Pepper also made its way to China’s Sichuan province in the 2 Century BCE and was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Publications from the Hahn Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty which goes back to 618 AD.
It was also used by the ancient Egyptians and Arabs who also played an important role in orchestrating this trade, it was discovered that pepper was used for stuffing the nostrils of the mummy of Ramesses II who died in 1213 BCE.
The Greeks and Romans were not far behind as they had knowledge of both the long and black Pepper as they used this spice to flavour wine, in medicine, and for flavouring food as well.
It is also known from written accounts of a Greek Sailor who documented journeys of the Romans across the Arabian Sea to the Malabar region of India to procure Pepper.
And finally then came the various accounts from the end of the middle ages, especially from the well-documented journeys of Columbus and Vasco da Gama, who went in search of lands that grew exotic spices such as pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
While the Spanish never found their way, the Portuguese did and tried hard to get monopolistic control of the spice trade.
Harvesting and Post Harvesting Practices
The farmer can tell if the produce is ready for harvest by looking at the colour of the berries, when one or two berries on the spike turn yellow, it means that the berries are ready to be picked.
Single-pole bamboo is used as ladders and the pickers make their way up the vine in order to collect the fruit by hand. Once collected, the spikes with the berries are put in clean gunny bags.
The berries are then separated from the spikes by either applying manual force i.e. trampling them under the feet or using mechanical threshers, the former method is not preferable as it is considered unhygienic and can lead to higher microbial loads in the produce.
The next step in the post-harvesting process is blanching, this is where the berries are put in a perforated vessel and then dipped in boiling water for no longer than a minute. Applying this process has several advantages including achieving a cleaner product free from any particles and farm impurities, reduction of microbial load, reduction in the drying time of the berries, and achieving a uniform black colour across the lot.
Finally, the pepper is dried under the sun for anywhere between 3-7 days. The produce is spread out on bamboo mats PVC sheets or on the bare concrete floor and left to dry in the sun.
This is where the colour of the berries changes from green to brown. The green colour of the freshly harvested pepper is due to the presence of chlorophyll. However, during the drying process, enzymatic browning sets in, and the phenolic compounds are oxidized by atmospheric oxygen under the catalytic influence of the enzyme phenolase and the berries eventually turn black.
The drying process also ensures that the moisture content of the berries is brought down to 10-12% which is an acceptable level for proper long-term storage of the product or else the berries will be prone to fungal attacks.
Drying can also be done using mechanical driers however this is not a very popular method given the initial investment required for such units.
Grading and cleaning is the final step before the product can be packed and sold by the farmers.
Cleaning involves removing any remaining impurities from the berries including dust, spikes, stones, soil particles, insects, or weeds. This can be done by the process of winnowing and then handpicking the impurities.
Or a piece of machinery can also be used to undertake this process.
Next is the grading process whereby the produce is passed through metal sieves or a mesh of different sizes in order to separate out the peppercorns based on their size.
Each grade of black pepper has a certain diameter as a part of its specification, this process helps the farmer achieve a better return for their crop as compared to selling uncleaned or ungraded produce in the wholesale market.
Our Supply Chain
The Sabor Co. has developed relationships with farmers with marginal landholdings across the following countries,
In India, The Sabor Co. has relationships with farmers in the southern state of Kerala.
The Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu account for the majority of the production of black pepper in India, however, it is also harvested to a limited extent in the states of Maharashtra and Meghalaya. Read more