Monday, October 01, 2007

Black Pepper and White Pepper

Many people have asked to see the black pepper vines and the white pepper vines when they visited pepper gardens in SArawak.

Those of us who have worked with pepper all our lives only smile when they ask to see these different vines.

In actual fact, black pepper and white pepper are not grown as such. All pepper grown from the vines are the same colour and they will later be processed to be white or black pepper.

Black pepper is known as black gold and white pepper is known as white gold to merchants of yesteryears. Today we have yellow gold which is gold, and liquid gold which is petroleum. Thus one can understand how precious pepper was to the Foochow farmers of the 50's and 60's especially when it was given "gold" as part of its name.

Pepper is by definition a dried berry of the pepper vine Piper nigrum.

Today most cooks don't appreciate the plentiful and inexpensive pepper.But in the early 14th century this spice was so valuable and rare it was sometimes used as currency. And in the 15th century European sailing expeditions were undertaken with the main purpose of finding alternate trade routes to the Far East, the primary source of the prized peppercorn and other spice!

Wars were fought and land were fought over by the Europeans in the Far East before the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British established themselves more firmly in eastern soils.

Pepper in one form or other is used around the world to enhance the flavor of both savory and sweet dishes. Because it stimulates gastric juices, it delivers a digestive bonus as well. The world's most popular spice is a berry that grows in grapelike clusters on the pepper plant (Piper nigrum), a climbing vine native to India and Indonesia. The berry is processed to produce three basic types of peppercorn-black, white and green. The most common is the black peppercorn, which is picked when the berry is not quite ripe, then dried until it shrivels and the skin turns dark brown to black. It's the strongest flavored of the three-slightly hot with a hint of sweetness. Among the best black peppers are the Tellicherry and the Lampong. The less pungent white peppercorn has been allowed to ripen, after which the skin is removed and the berry is dried. The result is a smaller, smoother-skinned, light-tan berry with a milder flavor. White pepper is used to a great extent for appearance, usually in light-colored sauces or foods where dark specks of black pepper would stand out. The green peppercorn is the soft, underripe berry that's usually preserved in brine. It has a fresh flavor that's less pungent than the berry in its other forms. Black and white peppercorns are available whole, cracked and coarsely or finely ground. Whole peppercorns freshly ground with a pepper mill deliver more flavor than does preground pepper, which loses its flavor fairly quickly. Whole dried peppercorns can be stored in a cool, dark place for about a year; ground pepper will keep its flavor for about 4 months. Green peppercorns packed in brine are available in jars and cans. They should be refrigerated once opened and can be kept for 1 month. Water-packed green peppercorns must also be refrigerated but will only keep for about a week. Freeze-dried green peppercorns are also available and can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

Pepper stimulates salivation and the production of gastric juices. The active ingredients in pepper are terpenes (volatile oils), alkaloids, a resin, and some vegetable oils. Plant geographers believe that Piper nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southwestern India, where there are still wild plants in the western Ghats.

At the store you will find black pepper and white pepper, which actually come from the same plant. Black pepper is the dried, immature fruit (a drupe). White pepper is made from the inner portion of mature fruits; the outer covering is removed by retting the fruits in gunny sacks in slow-running water to permit the bacteria to loosen the outer pericarp. White pepper is slightly different in flavor, but its main selling point is that it is light and can be used for special occasions as a contrast to dark-colored foods. Actually, black pepper has light flecks (particles of the inner fruit) mixed in with the darker particles of the outer pericarp.

Black pepper is produced on vines. The plant is propagated from vegetative cuttings, and it is often interplanted with shade trees, especially tree crops such as coffee (Coffea). This plant requires high temperatures (28-35 degrees C), heavy and well-distributed rainfall (>2500 mm over 8-10 months), and a well-drained soil with much humus and high water-holding capacity (not too acid). The best places for growing pepper are now India, Sarawak in Indonesia, and Brazil.

Malaysian Recipe : Sarawak Black Pepper Beef

Serves 1


180g beef tenderloin, sliced

¼ tsp white pepper powder

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp cornflour

1 whole egg white

1 tsp sesame oil
2-3 tbsp oil

2 cloves garlic, shopped

1 large onion, quartered

20g Sarawak black pepper, crushed

30g green bell pepper, cut or diced

30g red bell pepper, cut or diced

2 tbsp HP sauce

2 tbsp chicken stock

¼ tsp salt or to taste

1 tsp sugar or to taste

Marinate beef slices with the white pepper powder, soy sauce, egg white, cornflour and sesame oil and set aside for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok or frying pan over a high flame. Sear the beef for 1 to 2 minutes on both sides. Remove and set aside.
In the remaining oil (add more if needed), stir fry the garlic, onion, crushed black pepper and bell peppers over a medium heat. Add the beef and HP sauce and stir together. Season to taste with chicken stock, salt and sugar. Dish out and serve with a fresh grating of Sarawak black pepper.

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