All that glitters is not gold, so goes the popular saying, which also applies to the peppercorn. At first glance, it might seem that this slightly shriveled spice does not hide too many secrets, but few people know that in earlier times it was a matter of prestige and that even many pharaohs and kings themselves enjoyed it. Although today pepper is one of the most widely used spices in the world, commonly dominating European, Asian and American cuisines, this and many other secrets that remain hidden to some.
A pepper that one would kill for
Today we probably think of oil as black gold. However, before its mass extraction, the term belonged to pepper, as it contained similarly great riches. The history of the relationship between man and the black pepper tree has been written for thousands of years in Asia. It would seem that pepper arrived on European tables much later, thanks to seafaring discoveries made during the 15th century, but traces of pepper have been found in the nostrils of Pharaoh Ramesses II and notes on pepper in the writings of Roman historians suggest that pepper was known on the ancient continent much earlier.
The famous seafarers and intrepid Italian spice merchants only rediscovered pepper and built their mighty empire, centred in Venice, on the money made from its trade. Newly discovered trade routes helped to drive down the price of the commodity over time. Until then, crushed peppercorns on dishes were a luxury that underlined the prestige of the host. Since the 16th and 17th centuries, however, pepper lost some of its grandeur as it became more commonplace and slowly began to appear outside royal palaces and nobles' castles.
There's no such thing as pepper - but in the old days, they didn't make much of a distinction
Interestingly, pepper also played a role in the discovery of America. Not only did Christopher Columbus think he had discovered a new route to India through one of the most important voyages in human history, but when he found a strange red crop, he simply named it after pepper for its pungent properties. And as we know, the same name for pepper and hot peppers is still used in some languages today. After all, cayenne pepper has little in common with peppercorns, as it is just a crushed variety of the chilli pepper.
From the southern part of India, where the tradition of growing peppercorns originated, it gradually spread to other tropical areas of the world, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and even across the ocean to as far away as Brazil. Today, pepper accounts for around 20% of the total spice trade, with Vietnam becoming the growing power. It produces up to 1/3 of the world's pepper, and exports most of this production to other countries. The reason is simple, Vietnamese cuisine uses pepper only minimally.
Which nation consumes the most pepper per year?
Therefore, a significant part of Vietnamese production goes to the United States, which in turn is one of the world's largest consumers of pepper. In a year, over USD 650 million worth of pepper is exported to this country, i.e. nearly 15 billion CZK. However, the people of Tunisia are considered to be the biggest lovers of the hot pepper flavour. They have the highest per capita consumption of pepper, namely over 100 grams per year.
The biggest secret of pepper, however, remains its taste, which must be experienced literally on your own taste buds. The variety from Kampot, for example, is beyond any experience you have had with ordinary pepper and its taste. Don't believe it? Taste it.