Innes Miller notes that while pepper was grown in southern Thailand and in Malaysia , its most important source was India , particularly the Malabar Coast , in what is now the state of Kerala.
The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems that recognize the term peppercorn rent as a token payment for something that is, essentially, being given. The ancient history of black pepper is often interlinked with and confused with that of long pepper , the dried fruit of closely related Piper longum.
The Romans knew of both and often referred to either as just "piper". In fact, it was not until the discovery of the New World and of chili peppers that the popularity of long pepper entirely declined. Chili peppers—some of which, when dried, are similar in shape and taste to long pepper—were easier to grow in a variety of locations more convenient to Europe. These areas traded mainly with China, or used the pepper locally. Following the British hegemony in India, virtually all of the black pepper found in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa was traded from Malabar region.
Ancient times[ edit ] Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II , placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in BCE. Pepper both long and black was known in Greece at least as early as the 4th century BCE, though it was probably an uncommon and expensive item that only the very rich could afford.
Details of this trading across the Indian Ocean have been passed down in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. According to the Roman geographer Strabo , the early Empire sent a fleet of around ships on an annual one-year trip to China, Southeast Asia, India and back.
The fleet timed its travel across the Arabian Sea to take advantage of the predictable monsoon winds. Returning from India, the ships travelled up the Red Sea , from where the cargo was carried overland or via the Nile-Red Sea canal to the Nile River, barged to Alexandria , and shipped from there to Italy and Rome.
The rough geographical outlines of this same trade route would dominate the pepper trade into Europe for a millennium and a half to come. With ships sailing directly to the Malabar coast, black pepper was now travelling a shorter trade route than long pepper, and the prices reflected it.
It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!
Who was the first to make trial of it as an article of food? Apicius ' De re coquinaria , a 3rd-century cookbook probably based at least partly on one from the 1st century CE, includes pepper in a majority of its recipes. Edward Gibbon wrote, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , that pepper was "a favorite ingredient of the most expensive Roman cookery". Postclassical Europe[ edit ] Pepper was so valuable that it was often used as collateral or even currency.
In the Dutch language, "pepper expensive" peperduur is an expression for something very expensive. The taste for pepper or the appreciation of its monetary value was passed on to those who would see Rome fall. Alaric the Visigoth included 3, pounds of pepper as part of the ransom he demanded from Rome when he besieged the city in 5th century.
Once into the Mediterranean, the trade was largely monopolized by Italian powers, especially Venice and Genoa. The rise of these city-states was funded in large part by the spice trade.
A riddle authored by Saint Aldhelm , a 7th-century Bishop of Sherborne , sheds some light on black pepper's role in England at that time: I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover, Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table, Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen. But you will find in me no quality of any worth, Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow. There is no evidence to support this claim, and historians view it as highly unlikely: Similarly, the belief that pepper was widely used as a preservative is questionable: However, pepper and other spices certainly played a role in improving the taste of long-preserved meats.
A depiction of Calicut, India published in during Portugal's control of the pepper trade Its exorbitant price during the Middle Ages—and the monopoly on the trade held by Italy—was one of the inducements that led the Portuguese to seek a sea route to India.
In , Vasco da Gama became the first person to reach India by sailing around Africa see Age of Discovery ; asked by Arabs in Calicut who spoke Spanish and Italian why they had come, his representative replied, "we seek Christians and spices". Though this first trip to India by way of the southern tip of Africa was only a modest success, the Portuguese quickly returned in greater numbers and eventually gained much greater control of trade on the Arabian sea.
The Treaty of Tordesillas with the Spanish granted Portugal exclusive rights to the half of the world where black pepper originated. Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese proved unable to monopolize the spice trade. Older Arab and Venetian trade networks successfully imported enormous quantities of spices, and pepper once again flowed through Alexandria and Italy, as well as around Africa. In the 17th century, the Portuguese lost almost all of their valuable Indian Ocean trade to the Dutch and the English who, taking advantage from the Spanish ruling over Portugal during Iberian Union — , occupied by force almost all Portuguese dominations in the area.
The pepper ports of Malabar began to trade increasingly with the Dutch in the period — Pepper harvested for the European trader, from a manuscript Livre des merveilles de Marco Polo The book of the marvels of Marco Polo Pepper mill As pepper supplies into Europe increased, the price of pepper declined though the total value of the import trade generally did not.
Pepper, which in the early Middle Ages had been an item exclusively for the rich, started to become more of an everyday seasoning among those of more average means.
Today, pepper accounts for one-fifth of the world's spice trade. Sent by Emperor Wu to what is now south-west China, Tang Meng is said to have come across something called jujiang or "sauce-betel". He was told it came from the markets of Shu , an area in what is now the Sichuan province. The traditional view among historians is that "sauce-betel" is a sauce made from betel leaves, but arguments have been made that it actually refers to pepper, either long or black.
It does not appear to have been widely known at the time, failing to appear in a 4th-century work describing a wide variety of spices from beyond China's southern border, including long pepper. Marco Polo testifies to pepper's popularity in 13th-century China when he relates what he is told of its consumption in the city of Kinsay Hangzhou: During the course of the treasure voyages in the early 15th century, Admiral Zheng He and his expeditionary fleets returned with such a large amount of black pepper that the once-costly luxury became a common commodity.
Note the cook's pepper mill. Like many eastern spices, pepper was historically both a seasoning and a folk medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used. Black pepper or perhaps long pepper was believed to cure several illnesses, such as constipation , insomnia , oral abscesses , sunburn and toothaches , among others. There is no current medical evidence that any of these treatments has any benefit. Some sources say that piperine , a substance present in black pepper, irritates the nostrils, causing the sneezing.
Piperine is under study for its potential to increase absorption of selenium , vitamin B12 , beta-carotene and curcumin , as well as other compounds.
Black pepper contains between 4. These scents are mostly missing in white pepper, which is stripped of the fruit layer. White pepper can gain different odours including musty notes from its longer fermentation stage. Pepper can also lose flavour when exposed to light, which can transform piperine into nearly tasteless iso chavicine.
Handheld pepper mills or grinders, which mechanically grind or crush whole peppercorns, are used for this, sometimes instead of pepper shakers that dispense pre-ground pepper. Spice mills such as pepper mills were found in European kitchens as early as the 14th century, but the mortar and pestle used earlier for crushing pepper have remained a popular method for centuries as well.