Where do peppercorns come from? Let me tell you. Peppercorns come from Asia & there are many varieties. Black pepper is the most popular & the most traded spice around the world. Over 90% of India’s black pepper crop is produced here in Kerala & I have been lucky enough to visit during harvest time. They are everywhere and the air is aromatic with their fragrance.
The hills of Kerala are too gorgeous for words. The climate is perfect, warm & sunny but no stifling heat. There are birds & monkeys everywhere, giant luscious trees, tea plantations and spices. It is incredibly verdant. Needless to say I love it.
In just a few days I have had several trip highlights; trekking through Kipling-esque jungle, seeing wild elephants, visiting a tea factory, driving a rickshaw and best of all, visiting a spice plantation. Kerala also produces lots of tea, coffee, green cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, turmeric and ginger, but pepper has been one of its main sources of income for over several thousand years.
Black pepper was known in Ancient Egypt and Greece and was probably traded from the Malabar region. Apparently the Romans were well into it & sent around a hundred ships a year to India to stock up on “black gold”.
I visited a beautiful coffee, tea & spice plantation just outside Kumily called Churakulam Coffee Estate. They produce lots of different things, including ayurvedic medicines, from their herb gardens.
It was a really fascinating tour & our guide Sheena was extremely knowledgable about different herbs, spices and how they are cultivated & processed and how they can be used for well-being. Some things they keep just to show visitors, so there were plants from all over the world including a few I recognised from Peru.
I have been taking an ayurvedic syrup for my cough made with Tulsi which is a rather magical plant. So far it seems to be working. Tulsi can also be used to treat various stomach problems, high blood pressure & apparently a ton of other things (I have stocked up).
So far my experiences of ayurveda have been mixed, couple of great massages, one rather terrible massage & a weird treatment called Nasya. I was feeling a little unwell & like I was getting a cold, I had blocked sinuses, a headache and cough. It was during my extended stay at the beach in Varkala, which was so lovely I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Frankly, I was a little indignant at having a cold at the beach – how did that happen? Anyway, there were about fifty ayurvedic clinics so I decided to see if they had anything to help.
I explained my symptoms & the doctor recommended Nasya. It involves pouring warm oil into the nose, massaging the face vigorously. It also involves quite a lot of discomfort, streaming eyes, extreme sneezing for about four hours, pain in the head (like when you jump in a pool and the water rushes up your nose) and in my case some loud cursing. I was supposed to return three to four times for it to be effective, but I decided to just drink lots of juices & wait for the cold to go – if the treatment is worse that the symptoms, why bother?
Having said that I would totally try other ayurvedic treatments as my body does not like pharmaceuticals. Some of the plants used are extremely powerful & I wonder why we don’t use more of them in the west.
If you know anyone who has type 2 diabetes they should be taking cinnamon extract, it helps the body to use insulin. Since my dad was diagnosed he started taking cinnamon & Chromium & his blood sugar is now perfect, even if he doesn’t stick to his diet- his doctors are amazed.
Anyway I digress, back to where peppercorns come from…
Pepper is a vine which grows up other trees so it is usually grown as a secondary crop. Kerala grows almost all of the pepper in India, so at the moment there are tarpaulins outside most houses with peppercorns drying in the sun & people clambering up precarious looking bamboo ladders to harvest them.
In the tea plantations oak trees are planted in between the tea bushes to give shade as the sun scorches the leaves & ruins the tea. Pepper is often grown up these oak trees. It is also grown in the coffee plantations, gardens & by the side of the road.
When it is harvested the peppercorns (or drupes) are green. They are threshed to get rid of the stems which are usually mulched up to make fertiliser. When they are green the flavour is milder & these can be preserved. Here they are used for pickles and chutneys. However most of the pepper is dried to make black and white pepper.
It takes three days of sunshine to dry them and the colour changes each day. The black part is the shrivelled skin of the peppercorn, which is why black pepper has a fruitier flavour. Once they are black they are either packaged up or turned into white pepper. This is done by removing the black coating to reveal the white husk inside. This extra process adds to the cost, so white is always more expensive than black pepper.
There are also three types of pepper growing wild in the jungle. I tried a wild peppercorn yesterday, it tasted a lot like Sichuan pepper & made my mouth numb. The people here use it when they have a fever. They either drink it in tea or rum and they say it brings a fever down in just a few hours.
My lovely hosts at the homestay made me some pepper tea when I arrived back soaked to the skin after a rafting trip. I didn’t fall in the water, but there was an incredible storm and we walked for over an hour in torrential rain. I was really shivering & feared my cough and cold would return, but so far so good – I think the pepper tea sorted me out – it certainly warmed me up & I felt better in minutes. It also tasted great, sweet & milky & spicy.
YAY for pepper.