The Pepper Connection
By Global Master Chef Karl Guggenmos
I find it fascinating, how over time, the use of spices and herbs to flavor food has changed.
Much of it has to do with the increased availability of ingredients from around the world. However, we can also attribute this to the exhaustive research on how food and spices affect our health.
Growing up in Germany, we were mostly restricted to our local Bavarian fare and not much else.
For example, I was 14 years old the first time I had broccoli. I was traveling to Italy by train with my mother, who reluctantly took me to the dining car.
Of course, throughout my apprenticeship as a young man, the introduction of new ingredients continued.
Though there were many new foods and spices to learn about, there was one spice that was a consistent standard.
I am referring to the ingredient “pepper”.
Whenever we read a savory dish recipe, at some point, you may see the note “add some pepper and salt”.
What kind of pepper? Back in the day, only two types came to mind: black pepper for dark foods and white pepper for light foods.
Recently that changed as we learned that just like salt, not all peppers are created equal.
Let’s consider a few facts about pepper and observe a few varieties.
Black Pepper is considered the “King of Spice”.
It originates from the South Indian Province of Kerala and was spread around the world through Indian and Arab Traders.
All varieties of pepper come from the same berry plucked from the pepper plant. The color of the pepper is dependent on the time that it is harvested.
Once plucked, they are sun dried to the desired type.
Peppers are widely available in stores and enjoy immense popularity.
They are healthy too. Here are a few reasons why:
- Pepper carries great anti-inflammatory, carminative and anti-flatulent properties.
- They contain piperine, an essential oil that supports digestion and can increase absorption of selenium, B-complex vitamins and beta-carotene. It also contains potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
- They are also an excellent source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin.
- Black peppercorns contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium and iron.
- Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps with controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
- Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Iron is essential for cellular respiration and blood cell production.
- Peppers are also an excellent source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin.
- Peppercorns are a good source of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C and vitamin-A. They are also rich in polyphenolic flavonoid antioxidants like carotenes, cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lycopene. These compounds help the body remove harmful free radicals and help protect from cancers and diseases.
There are five major varieties of peppers. These include:
1. Green Pepper Corns:
Produced from early harvest berries, quickly dried applying high temperatures so the berries remain green. Good for sauces and soups.
- Black Pepper Corns
Also produced from early harvest berries and dried slowly until the color becomes black. Overall used in any dish and as an added spice.
- Long Pepper Corn
A rarity from South East Asia. Slightly sweet, a little earthy but can also be hot. Very popular in warm cheese dishes such as fondues and souffles. Do not use in a pepper mill but a pepper mortar.
- White Pepper Corn
Same process as black pepper but the shell is removed. Great for poultry, seafood and vegetable dishes.
- Pink Pepper Corn
Native to Brazil, not so hot and slightly sweet.
Used in desserts, especially in dark chocolate containing dishes, as well as salads, seafood and vegetables.