History of Pepper


74 points | by graderjs 6 days ago


  • sfifs 5 days ago
    One interesting side note is that in the land of origin of pepper in India, to a very large extent Chilli has replaced pepper as the spiciness creating ingredient in most household and restaurant dishes. Chillies of course come from Mexico and are another colonial import. Pepper is now used only in a very few mostly traditional Indian dishes.
    • mangamadaiyan 4 days ago
      Well, chilli grows far more easily than black pepper, and consequently is far more affordable, even today. Secondly, it takes far more black pepper by weight to induce any kind of burn. Thirdly, they taste very different.

      The widespread use of chilli as a spice in Indian cooking would also have an economic aspect to it, I'm sure.

      Fun fact: the one place (speaking for Southern India) where you're likely to find cooking that uses only indigenous (pre-chilli -- ergo pre 16th century) ingredients is any kind of Hindu religious ceremony or celebration associated with death, be it a funeral or a death anniversary. That stuff tastes OK, some of it is great. All told, I'd rather have food tainted by "modern" ingredients than not.

      Edit: qualified the "celebrations and ceremonies" bit

      • elangoc 4 days ago
        The thing about chili peppers is that they're not healthy (have medicinal benefits) in the way peppercorn and long pepper do. Capsaicin can be harmful in large quantities, IIUC.

        There are South Indian foods and snacks like venpongal and methu vadai that use whole peppercorn, not chili peppers. Tomato is another colonialism byproduct, but there are still people who make versions that use lemons instead of tomatoes. A common homemade drink for sick people is made from grinding dried ginger, coriander seeds, and black pepper. These are all daily foods. But you're right, few households or restaurants are 100% free of these 400 year old import crops.

        Obviously, chili pepper is used where peppercorn or ground black pepper used to be, for the reasons in the parent comment. It also makes sense that black pepper would have been used in various dishes because it enhances the potency of the medicinal properties of turmeric by an order of magnitude. It wouldn't be hard to go back to black pepper, I imagine, with a little retooling of recipes to rebalance flavors.

        • mangamadaiyan 4 days ago
          I don't subscribe to the opinion that all "imports" are bad, and that everything indigenous was miraculous and glorious. For goodness' sake, you probably typed your message on a Chinese-made device in a language that is not your mother tongue, as did I. That doesn't make us less of anything, does it?

          Even the quintessentially southern Idli is rumoured to be a 12th century import brought down to the south by migrating Saurashtrians. (Mentioning this over other theories, since it seems to have the strongest documentary evidence). That isn't going to stop me enjoying my Idli with Sambar (which too is apparently a culinary import!).

          By and large, cultural exchange makes the world a richer place. Are there unsavoury parts to human history? Yes. Even the Cholas (for example) conquered and colonized lands far away from where they were born, did they not?

          • elangoc 4 days ago
            You seemed to have misunderstood what I was saying.

            I was pointing out that specifically in the case of chili spice, I don't think it's good for the body. There are data to support the idea that eating large amounts of capsaicin is harmful to the body: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/chili-peppers#dow...

            Meanwhile, go to the vitamin supplement section of your nearest store, look at the ingredients of turmeric tablets, and you'll see they have a disclaimer that they have trace amounts of black pepper to magnify the effect of turmeric.

            Everything else you said is fine by me because I wasn't arguing for it or against it.

            Oranges and millets probably came from China, bananas probably came from SE Asia (and these things probably before the Sangam age, which is before the Pallavas and the height of the Cholas, so clearly exchange was happening for longer than we know).

            A slight correction to what you said, idli came from a Pallava king in the 13th century who married a bride from a Indonesia who in turn brought along cooks who liked using rice. They combined rice with lentils to make idli: https://youtu.be/7pxEXHxSQzU

            To be clear, I know that rice has been grown in South Asia since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization (>= 4500 years ago), but all I'm saying is specifically about idli.

            • mangamadaiyan 4 days ago
              Apologies, it looks like I indeed misunderstood what you were trying to convey.
          • dtgriscom 4 days ago
            > Capsaicin can be harmful in large quantities, IIUC.


            • grendelt 4 days ago
              > Citation?

              Pepper spray. ;)

              • josephcsible 4 days ago
                Pepper spray is used because it's really painful but isn't actually harmful.
                • grendelt 4 days ago
                  Well too much of anything is harmful. If it isn't, it isn't "too much".
                  • qart 4 days ago
                    In the same vein, too much of anything creates black holes.
                    • dtgriscom 4 days ago
                      Adding so much pepper you get a black hole would definitely risk your tip.
        • walrus01 4 days ago
          Something interesting to think about is that the potato has become an essential and staple food in some places like the central mountain highlands of Afghanistan, but it didn't exist there prior to sailing ship contact between the "new world" and "old world".

          How exactly the potato made it there from Spanish, Portugeuse and early English expeditions around 1500, and the lag time until it became commonplace there I am not quite clear.

          • na85 4 days ago
            No doubt it was traded along the remaining fragments of the Silk Road. Some routes persisted into the 1700s.
          • chupchap 4 days ago
            Pepper is still used a lot in Kerala, but I agree with you that red and green chilies are used more commonly.
          • Bud 6 days ago
            As an aside, if anyone is looking for an absolutely insane pepper mill, get the Männkitchen Pepper Cannon. You will never need another one. It's a big solid hunk of aluminum, stainless steel burrs, and puts out 5-10x the amount that other mills do per crank. Easier to adjust fineness of grind than any other mill out there. Evenness of grind is also superior.

            It has changed my entire life in the kitchen.

            • hammock 5 days ago
              A similar pepper mill, made in the USA (not China) for a lower price:

              Unicorn Mills Magnum ($59) http://www.unicornmills.org/magnum-plus.html

              I have not tested either, though I have heard of the Mannkitchen Pepper Cannon and from what I know it is probably the best one you can get if you are not concerned with price. We are talking high-volume output, only one or two pumps needed per dish. Or as they say in the marketing, "Pepper your steak in 7 cranks instead of 70." Comparison video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25IO6GJ3zfg

              Of course, the classic pepper mill is the Peugeot Paris, available here in every size from 3 inches to 30 inches (don't buy from Amazon, there are a bunch of counterfeits): https://us.peugeot-saveurs.com/en_us/paris-mills

              I did a bunch of pepper mill research not too long ago - AMA.

              • Bud 5 days ago
                I have one of those Peugeots, got it for my wedding, and thought I would love it. It's gorgeous, but sadly, it's just plain awful at doing what pepper mills are for: generating pepper. It's better as a forearm workout than as a grinder of pepper. Sad, but true.

                That Unicorn can't compete either, btw. Grind rate is much slower and it's made of plastic.

                Männkitchen's marketing sounds exaggerated...until you use the product. It's just unreal.

                • simtel20 4 days ago
                  The unicorn may be slower than the cannon, but it is far faster and easier to use than every other pepper grinder I've had experience with, and it's much more affordable. Regarding the plastic exterior, it has endured across 2 continents for at least 8 years for me, so the plastic is not cheap.
                  • hammock 5 days ago
                    Good data. Thanks!
                  • mhuffman 5 days ago
                    I have had a unicorn for 5-6 years or so and am very happy with it. My only "complaint" is that you have to side load the peppercorns which can get messy. But otherwise the best I have ever used.
                    • dtgriscom 4 days ago
                      I was about to recommend this very mill. Have had it for just shy of 14 years, and it still makes great grinds.
                      • dtgriscom 4 days ago
                        That said, I just looked through the Männkitchen website, and I'm sorely tempted.
                      • coryrc 4 days ago
                        "Unfortunately, we are completely out of stock."

                        Mid-year at the earliest...

                      • nefitty 5 days ago
                        Wow, it's available for only $199 at https://mannkitchen.com/pages/pepper-cannon

                        "But, will there be too much pepper?"

                        "No. There will be the exact amount of pepper you want, ground more consistently, in a fraction of the time."

                        • stickfigure 4 days ago
                          I use one of these, for $13:


                          I've bought two more for folks whose kitchens I occasionally cook in. It puts out a massive rain of pepper with a comfortable cranking motion. I would not trade it for a $200 pepper grinder.

                          • rdtsc 4 days ago
                            Yup! That’s the one I use. Best so far for price and ease of cranking. Others might take less turns, however this one I can just spin nonstop until the steak is covered in pepper if I want.

                            If it breaks, I will just get another one for $13.

                          • pottertheotter 4 days ago
                            FWIW, I've had the Cole & Mason Derwent pepper miller for 5 years and have liked it. For $50, I'm not sure I use it enough to make up for the extra $150 the Männkitchen costs. It's cool though!

                            If I have a lot of pepper to grind, I'd use an electric spice grinder.

                            • yeetaccount4 4 days ago
                              How’s this better than a $15 mortar and pestle?

                              I mean for $200 let’s mill that bitch out of a solid block of Ti and give it tungsten carbide burrs…okay that’s probably a $1000 kitchen status symbol.

                              • gkop 4 days ago
                                A grinder has at least two significant features missing from a mortar and pestle: you have easy control over the fineness of the grind, and you can measure rough quantity in number of turns. Plus a grinder is generally handier for a bit of pepper on this or that.
                                • Bud 4 days ago
                                  I've actually used a mortar and pestle to prepare huge quantities of pepper for evenly coating a 17-pound prime rib, so I can answer that.

                                  First, if you use a mortar and pestle, peppercorns will randomly fly out. This is not convenient.

                                  Second, it will take you a long-ass time. This is also not convenient.

                                  Third, you will have basically no control over evenness of grind/crush. And that evenness helps.

                                  I know the $200 will make many folks blanche, but I'm telling you, that all melts away once you use this thing. :)

                              • simonebrunozzi 4 days ago
                                Several inaccuracies regarding Venice. Venice thrived in the 15th and 16th century, despite the claim of the article of Venice losing the pepper trade to Lisbon, and started to decline only at the beginning of the 17th century.

                                Salt seems to have been at least as important as pepper.

                                From the Wikipedia page on the Economic History of Venice [0]:

                                > According to economic historian Jan De Vries, Venice's economic power in the Mediterranean had declined significantly by the start of the 17th century. De Vries attributes this decline to the loss of the spice trade, a declining uncompetitive textile industry, competition in book publishing due to a rejuvenated Catholic Church, the adverse impact of the Thirty Years' War on Venice's key trade partners, and the increasing cost of cotton and silk imports to Venice.

                                [0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_Venice#Sal...

                                • graderjs 4 days ago
                                  It's history. There's bound to be vagaries of interpretation for different authors. But even given your source it doesn't seem so much inaccurate as mostly corroborated

                                    > De Vries attributes this decline to the loss of the spice trade
                                  And regarding the date I don't think you can over specify the meaning of the article's sentence on Venice to induce an inaccuracy.

                                  Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a sea-route to the spice lands ... in 1498 ... destroyed the economies of Alexandria, Genoa and Venice

                                  Sure, you could read that as: "Venice's economy was destroyed the moment de Gama set foot on the spice lands", but it seems an equally, if not more, valid reading (and much more generous and reasonable), to assume what is meant is that de Gama's discovery eventually destroyed those economies...as in, it was an inflection point that tipped the scales in Portugal's favor and helped begin the processes that directly lead to the incumbents' declines.

                                  Reasonable given that no one expects economies of empires to be destroyed overnight. With empire-scale reserves, and monopoly advantages the process could reasonably take a century, of course (and a century being roughly the span from 1498 to the 17th century). And generous given that, since the decline date is so easily found on a resource as common as Wikipedia, it's unlikely they are mistaken by not being erudite enough.

                                  The lack of elaborating temporal detail is even less damning, given the economy the article seems to want to take with words, sparing a mere two sentences on large swathes of history. With this sort of compact language, who can expect them to pedantically agonize over removing every possible divergent interpretation, and achieve unequivocal precision?

                                  I think the more likely situation is the article is perfectly accurate on that point, and you've simply read an inaccuracy into it by misinterpreting the authors' omission of absolute precision as error.

                                • Anthony-G 4 days ago
                                  We only had pre-ground white or black pepper when I was growing up but as a young adult, I discovered that pepper has much more flavour when freshly ground. Since then, I’ve wondered why I don’t ever see white pepper-corns for sale. This article answered the question for me:

                                  > Black pepper tastes strongest when freshly ground although pre-ground pepper is often used in seasonings for convenience. White pepper is less aromatic than black pepper but has special applications, as in white sauces where black pepper would give them an undesirable speckled appearance

                                  For what it’s worth, when cooking a white sauce, I just live with the speckled appearance – though I could be tempted to try see how it tastes with pre-ground white pepper.

                                  • addaon 4 days ago
                                    I've also discovered, not surprisingly, that there's a wide quality range for peppercorns. Good, fresh peppercorns are not just stronger, but have a wider range of flavors, like floral notes. This [1] is what's in my peppermill now, and I'm really enjoying it -- no affiliation with B&B, but I've enjoyed everything I've bought from them.

                                    [1] https://www.burlapandbarrel.com/collections/peppercorns/prod...

                                    • Bud 4 days ago
                                      Those look rather nice, but they are 10x what you should be paying. You can get good, fresh Tellicherry peppercorns for $8 a pound on Amazon, and they are very nice. Another option is your local co-op or spice store, which, if you are lucky, should have pepper in bulk for about the same price.


                                      • addaon 4 days ago
                                        I try to avoid eating things from Amazon, due to supply chain concerns.

                                        Compared to the $10/lb pepper I get locally, the $40/lb stuff is noticeably better, and I end up using a bit less of it. It's not a major expense for me -- a pound lasts nearly a year at my usage rate, which is about the point where I'd be worried about freshness anyway -- so, while I agree the cost-per-unit-weight difference is significant and even ridiculous, the cost-per-meal difference is in the noise for me personally.

                                  • porknubbins 5 days ago
                                    I’m always amazed by our ability to adopt and normalize once “exotic” spices, commodities etc and then pretend they were always a part of our culture so much so that we forget where they even came from. One of the UK’s most popular tea brands “Yorkshire Gold” evokes nostaligia for rural England when it really comes from Africa or India.
                                    • teh_klev 4 days ago
                                      Your comment reminded me of this quite amusing exchange between Yorkshire Tea and a fully paid up member of the Brexiteer Wingnut Order:


                                      • culi 4 days ago
                                        Potatoes were domesticated in the Andes and Ireland was very resistant to them at first. Bell peppers and chili peppers, tomatoes, chocolate, corn, and much much more was unknown to Afro-Eurasia until just a few generations ago. Over half the foods in most people's kitchens nowadays comes from other continents
                                      • peter303 6 days ago
                                        "The spice must flow" has this historic antecedent. At times pepper's taste, preservative, alleged health value and price was off the scale, not unlike Dune spice.
                                        • johnhenry 5 days ago
                                          Inhale enough pepper and things get crazy, not unlike Dune spice.
                                          • unwind 5 days ago
                                            Are you sure pepper has preservative properties? Any link/reference would be appreciated, I hadn't heard of that before. A quick check of Wikipedia didn't find anything either.
                                            • caseyohara 5 days ago
                                              From the linked article:

                                              As a Preservative: The value of pepper as a natural preservative for meat and other perishable foods has been known for centuries. Studies have shown that this is due to the anti-oxidant and anti-microbial properties present in pepper.

                                              • unwind 5 days ago
                                                Haha thanks, serves me right for skimming, I guess.

                                                I couldn't come up with any examples of foods preserved using black pepper obviously, but that might just be cultural filtering (I'm from northern Europe).

                                                Googling says "jams, pickles, preserves and candies" which was not very helpful.

                                                • jaclaz 5 days ago
                                                  JFYI in Italy (in the North) there are a number of ham-like products that are essentially "covered" in pepper, example:


                                                  But usually most hams have the "cut" part covered in ground salt and black pepper anyway.

                                                  • marsa 4 days ago
                                                    yup most aged dried or smoked meat products in this area use a mixture of salt, pepper, and various herbs to preserve the meat. prosciutto and bacon most notably.
                                                  • AareyBaba 4 days ago
                                                    Pastrami, Italian sausage
                                                • jasone 5 days ago
                                                  I recall reading about spice being used to mask the flavor of food starting to go bad. It's not a preservative function, rather it allows people to eat poor-tasting-but-not-yet-poisonous food.
                                            • Karupan 4 days ago
                                              I was lucky enough to once get quite a bit of black and white pepper from my friend’s spice estate in south India. The black pepper wasn’t considerably better than a good supermarket brand, but the white pepper was much better. Since it’s quite a common ingredient in South Indian cuisine, my family used it up in a couple of years. We usually end up hand pounding using a mortar and pestle.
                                              • pacificmint 4 days ago
                                                Marjorie Shaffer wrote a whole book on the topic: "Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice" [1]

                                                If you are interested in learning more about the history of the spice trade, it's well worth a read.

                                                [1] https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250048660

                                                • mcovalt 5 days ago
                                                  I was curious how our use of black pepper came to be. One of my favorite Wikipedia articles chronicles history's utterances of the same question:


                                                  • cardamomo 4 days ago
                                                    For those interested in a more personal take on this amazing spice, I recommend Amitav Ghosh's essay, "The Spice of Life" (2017).


                                                    • travisgriggs 4 days ago
                                                      Hoped it was this:


                                                      Oh well.

                                                      • twright 4 days ago
                                                        I think a lot about this Trevor Noah bit [1] with a good punchline about the historic and modern importance of spices. I’d be interested what the article means by “[de Gama’s discovery of spices on Malabar] destroyed the economies of Alexandria, Genoa and Venice“ If you liked reading this article I recommend Kurlansky’s book “Salt: A History of the World”.

                                                        [1] https://youtu.be/BOt5SmHf2aE

                                                        • cosmotic 6 days ago
                                                          "Known Medicinal Uses: Pepper is an important ingredient in Ayurvedic, Chinese, Unani"

                                                          Those are not medicinal uses.

                                                          • news_to_me 5 days ago
                                                            They are, they’re just not mainstream medicine.
                                                            • cosmotic 5 days ago
                                                              If we allow for 'not mainstream medicine', why then are they stopping at those three? Why not include the spells and potions that might include pepper? Why not the treatments you or I could just make up on the spot in a work of fiction? If we expand the definition of medicine to include nonsense, the term would lose all meaning. As a society we demand medicine be 'things proven to work' and all those things they list are not part of that set; they have not been proven to work, and thus not included in 'medicine'. If they were in fact proven to work, they would simply be part of mainstream medicine.
                                                              • orgels_revenge 4 days ago
                                                                Piperine, an extract from black pepper, is known to increase absorption of nutrients in the gut. A study on PubMed shows increases of curcumin absorption by 2000% after taking piperine. Personally, I have noticed great effects when I take piperine in combination with other compounds. I got here from studying ancient Chinese medicine.
                                                              • drsnow 5 days ago
                                                                Mainstream in this case meaning legitimate.