Tag Archives: India

The History of Pepper

It is one of the most innocuous of spices. We see it every day, on nearly every table, and very few ever give two thoughts about the stuff. For many, it’s the first real spice that we get to eat on a regular basis. No – it’s not salt (which is, technically speaking, a mineral and not a spice). Rather, it’s black pepper, the Bud Abbot to salt’s Lou Costello.

Black pepper has been around for nearly 4000 years, fortuitously not so coincidentally from the Black Pepper plant that is found native to the Western Ghats of Kerala State, India, where it still occurs wild in the mountains. The Black Pepper plant is also called Piper nigrum. Most black pepper comes from India, but it is also exported from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

It’s also one of the spices that had launched the spice trade, along with ginger (which I’ll get to next). It was quite popular in Rome, as Pliny the Elder had remarked. It has remained a near necessity in Europe ever since. They were also rare (as were many spices), and for a time was used in lieu of currency.

The Worshipful Company of Grocers, a Livery Company (aka Trade Guild) in London actually got its start as the Guild of Pepperers waaaay back in 1180. Their purpose, as with most guilds, was to maintaining standards for the purity of the spice and for the setting of certain weights and measures for distributing the spice. They became so good at their task with pepper that they became the Spice Guild, and then later evolved into the Grocer’s Guild.

Black Pepper (as well as other spices) was one of the primary reasons for the search for a sea route to India. Portugal made inroads, and actually controlled the pepper trade for a while, but countries with larger, more efficient navies, as well as smuggling, forced them out rather quickly. And once technology evolved to such a point where pepper could be imported on a regular basis, prices for the spice quickly fell and pepper’s popularity further increased as it became available to markets that previously could not afford it.

How important it Black Pepper to the spice trade? Consider this. Today, it seems rather innocuous as it sits there on your table. But it makes up 20% of today’s world spice trade. So, yeah. Black Pepper is a big deal.

I’ll be focusing on Black Pepper recipes when time and opportunity allows. Expect a few recipes and hopefully a few more tips and stories surrounding the spice.

Colas and Trade Secrets

In the discussion about copyright below, Mithrandir brought up the subject of Trade Secrets. Which is coincidental, because Coke and Pepsi are having a bit of a problem with their own trade secrets surrounding the secret recipes of their respective colas.

India’s top court asks Coca-Cola and Pepsico to disclose contents of soft drinks

India’s top court has asked Coca-Cola and Pepsi to disclose the ingredients in the soft drinks they sell here amid allegations the drinks contain high levels of pesticide.

The Supreme Court notice on Friday came days after a New Delhi-based independent research body said it found samples of Coke and Pepsi contained pesticide residue that was 24 times above the limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

The Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi said it carried out tests on 57 samples taken from 11 soft drink brands made by Coca-Cola India and PepsiCo India.

Firstly, it’s unlikely (but not improbable) that the colas have that level of pesticide.

My own opinion is that this is far more politically motivated than motivated by any regard for public health.

That being said, it’s going to be interesting to see how these American companies respond for the call to their recipes. Because they would really prefer not to have these recipes get out into the public.

UPDATE: In the comments, Prasanna points out that there is likely pesticides in the colas, but not due to the cola companies. They point to a Financial Times article which concludes:

Almost any product in India, from tap water to milk, contains traces of toxins due to overuse of pesticides by farmers. This seeps into local ground water, which is used in more than 80 per cent of soft drinks.

Prasanna’s conclusions are as follows:

  1. Yes there are pesticides in all our products and the drinking water in India, which should worry us
  2. Yes the government limits for pesticide residues in our products are way to low (and haven’t developed much in the last years since the last scandal)
  3. Blaming Pepsi and Coca Cola is an anti-western populist agenda that has nothing to do with the problem. Even the study of CSE does no comparison to our traditional drinks as Tea (because normal Water in Tea or Coffee is less filtered than the one in Pepsi!)
  4. There should be a new independent study that compares comparable products!
  5. It seems to me way safer to drink Pepsi than to get a tea in India

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