10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pepper
Pepper is a staple on the dinner table, whether you're at home or at a restaurant. But did you know these surprising facts?
The Different Colors Indicate Levels of Ripeness
Black, white, red and green peppercorns all come from the same plant, but their ripeness and method of preparation vary. Black and green peppercorns are both unripe, but the black variety is cooked and dried. White peppercorns are soaked in water to remove the skins, and red peppercorns are left on the vine until the berries turn (you guessed it) bright red. This guide to peppercorns explains how to use each kind.
Some Peppercorns Aren’t Really Peppercorns
If you pick up a bag of pink or Szechuan peppercorns at a specialty grocery store, you’re not actually getting a true peppercorn. These types of pepper don’t come from the Piper nigrum plant. Pink peppercorns come from a South American shrub, and Szechuan peppercorns come from the prickly ash tree in China.
Peppercorns Aren’t Actually a Spice—They’re a Fruit!
Although we call them “pepper,” peppercorns are not related to capsicum pepper plants (like sweet and spicy peppers). They’re the fruit of the Piper nigrum, a flowering vine native to India. Technically, peppercorns are a drupe (just like peaches or cherries).
There’s an Easier Way to Get Pepper Out of the Shaker
Do you hate it when ground pepper gets clogged in the shaker? Stop violently shaking it and use this hack instead! Turn the pepper shaker over, grab a salt shaker and rub the bottoms together in a circular movement. The vibration allows the pepper to fall freely through those tiny holes, and you’ll have more than enough pepper after a few rotations. You might want to avoid restaurant pepper shakers, though.
You Should Really Be Grinding It Fresh
Like most essential spices, black pepper loses its pungent flavor when it’s exposed to air. When left whole, the outer shell seals in the flavor and the spice is good almost indefinitely. As soon as it’s ground, it becomes less flavorful. Within 30 days, most of the aroma and flavor of ground peppercorns is lost, so grind it fresh if you can.
Consuming Pepper May Be Good for Your Health
Peppercorns contain a compound called piperine, which gives the berry its spicy flavor. Studies have found that this compound has a wealth of health benefits, including relieving headaches and reducing inflammation. It also boosts your body’s absorption of another superfood spice: the curcumin found in turmeric.
It’s Good for Overall Digestion
The piperine in peppercorns releases digestive enzymes that may help your body break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates more effectively. Need another reason to cook with more spices? Here are some of their health benefits.
Pepper Is a Powerful Insect Deterrent
If you’re looking for a chemical-free way to get rid of ants, turn to black pepper. It won’t kill them, but sprinkling black pepper near their entry hole will prevent them from entering your home. You can also spray black pepper mixed with water on your plants to keep the bugs away.
It’s Known as the King of Spices for a Reason
Most of us take pepper for granted these days, but it’s one of the oldest and most traded spices in the world. It used to be extremely expensive because it only grew in India and was costly to ship. Today, it’s so common that it’s the world’s most traded spice.
Peppercorns Were Once Used as Currency
Pepper was once so valuable, it was worth more than gold by weight! Individual peppercorns were accepted as currency in the Middle Ages, and rumor has it that the siege of Rome was lifted by a payment of gold, silver, silk and a payment of three thousand pounds of pepper.