- Learn how to grow black pepper (peppercorn) in your garden; it is one of the most popular and most essential spices in the world.
- Growing Conditions for Black Pepper
- How to Grow Black Pepper Plant
- Requirements for Growing Black Pepper
- Black Pepper Plant Care
- Pests and diseases
- Where Do Peppercorns Come From?
- Passionate about Peppercorns!
- How to Grow Your Own Black Pepper Plants at Home
- Spice Up Your Life With a Peppercorn Plant!
- • Peppercorn Fruit
- • Black Pepper Plant Growth Habit
- • Peppercorn Plant Light Requirements
- • Ideal Temperature for Black Pepper Plant
- • Flowering Your Peppercorn Plant
- • Fertilizing Your Black Pepper Plant
- • Black Spots on the Peppercorn Plant Leaf
- • Black Pepper Plant Root Disease
- • Black Pepper Plant Pests
- The Ultimate Guide To Growing Black Pepper
- Where Does Black Pepper Come From?
- Black pepper
Learn how to grow black pepper (peppercorn) in your garden; it is one of the most popular and most essential spices in the world.
Other Names — Blanc Poivre, Extrait de Poivre, Grain de Poivre, Hu Jiao, Kali Mirchi, Kali Mirch, Kosho, Krishna, Marich, Maricha, Pepe, Pepper, Pepper Extract, Pepper Plant, Peppercorn, Pfeffer, Pimenta, Pimienta, Pimienta Negra y Pimienta Blanca, Piper, Piper nigrum, Piperine, Poivre, Poivre Noir, Poivre Noir et Blanc, Poivre Noir et Poivre Blanc, Poivrier, Vellaja, White Pepper.
Growing Conditions for Black Pepper
- The pepper plant is native to South India and is extensively cultivated there and in other tropical regions like Brazil, Myanmar, and Indonesia.
- Black pepper loves extremely hot and humid climates where the temperature never falls below 60 F (16 C).
- It is a vine with beautiful heart-shaped leaves (like betel leaf), it grows on support from hanging aerial roots and produces small spike-like white flowers in summer before setting fruits.
Also Read: Growing Spices at Home
How to Grow Black Pepper Plant
Sowing black pepper seeds can be done, but only fresh seeds are germinated, seeds are viable for a very short period.
To propagate it from seeds fill the container with a quality potting mix that contains a good amount of organic matter. Use your finger to poke holes, each 1/2 inch deep and about 1 to 1.5 inches apart. Drop a seed in each hole, then cover it with soil. Water the seeds often and keep the soil moist.
Note: It can also be propagated from cuttings.
Mix compost and coarse sand to the soil before planting. Make a hole in the soil and plant the seedlings or plants at the same depth as it was grown in the previous post. Pack the soil firmly around the base of the plant to hold it in the right position and water thoroughly.
If planting in pots, use a pot that is large enough as black pepper plants have an extensive root system.
Requirements for Growing Black Pepper
While planting pepper plant always remember to choose a location that remains humid and temperature mostly be maintained constantly around 75 to 85 Fahrenheit (24-30 C).
However, pepper plant can tolerate temperature between 50 F-104 F (10-40 C)
Black Pepper plants do best in fertile and medium clayey soil that retain slight moisture. Good drainage is always the essential need while growing black pepper in pot or ground. Waterlogged soil can damage the plant. Soil pH level could be anywhere between 5.5 and 7, add lime if the soil is too acidic and sulfur if alkaline.
Look for dappled shade, a spot that receives daylong filtered sunlight is optimal as the plant can be damaged if exposed to too much direct sunlight. If planting in a sunny area must use a shade cloth that filters the sunlight to at least 50%.
If growing in a cool climate, provide full sun.
Be sure to give the pepper plant plenty of water to keep the soil slightly moist always, not allowing the soil to dry out between watering spells.
Black Pepper Plant Care
Peppercorn plant loves humidity, the more, the better. For this, mist the plant often with soft water. If you’re growing black pepper in pots place them on a saucer filled with water, this will also increase the humidity level.
When growing on the ground, apply 10 kilograms of well-rotted manure or compost per year on a mature plant so that the soil remains rich in nutrients. In pots, side-dress the plants with compost.
Fertilize it with balanced 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 slow-release fertilizer, according to the product’s instruction at the beginning of the growing season. Application of Epsom salt is also beneficial.
Note: If cultivating in a large amount, it is best to get your soil tested before fertilizing.
Do mulching with organic matter to prevent evaporation and weeds.
The black, white or green peppers are actually harvested from a single plant. The color depends on the different degrees of maturation and how the black pepper is processed.
Pepper fruit is harvested before maturity and dried in the hot sun. After drying it becomes wrinkled and black.
To learn in detail about harvesting and processing read this guide.
Pests and diseases
The most common disease that infects it is root rot, which happens due to overwatering.
In pests, it can be attacked by aphids, slugs and scale insects. Also, beware of spider mites during indoor cultivation.
Also Read: How to Grow Cardamom
Where Do Peppercorns Come From?
Peppercorns—those fragrant little black BB-sized spheres with rough, wrinkled skin. We’ve all spilled them, cooked with them, and watched in anticipation as our waiters approached our dining tables with a large wooden contraption to ceremoniously grind them on top of our salads and pasta. We know what they look like and what they taste like, but where do they come from?
Peppercorns are actually a tiny fruit, the drupe (a fruit with a single seed in the middle) of a flowering vine known as piper nigrum, grown in tropical regions, native to the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia. Some of the best peppercorns in the world come from the Malabar Coast in the Indian state of Kerala.
Once a luxury item, only available to the wealthy, peppercorns and the resultant ground pepper, particularly black pepper, is now one of the most common culinary spices. Added, along with salt, to almost every dish we eat.
Colors And Degrees of Ripeness
The color of the various peppercorns you see in the store is a result of either when the tiny fruits are harvested, or else the type of processing they undergo after picking.
Black pepper and black peppercorns start as green peppercorns, which are the unripe fruit of the piper nigrum plant. The fruits grow in long, thin bunches on the vine, clustered somewhat like grapes. These bright green fruits are first cooked and then sun-dried. During the drying process, certain enzymes turn the skin a dark brown, almost black, as well as cause the outer skin of the fruit to contract and wrinkle.
Unripe peppercorn “drupes”
Black peppercorns have been traded across the world since ancient times. They’ve even shown up in the nostrils of the mummy of Rameses II in ancient Egypt, presumably used along with other fragrant spices as part of the mummification process.
Green peppercorns are the same species and are harvested at the same degree of ripeness. Though instead of cooking, the unripe drupes are treated with various substances or preservatives, including sulfur dioxide, to retard the enzymes that normally darken the skins. Sometimes green peppercorns are brined like pickles. As a result, green peppercorns are slightly more perishable than black.
White peppercorns are made from the same fruit as the black and the green varieties, but the fruit is allowed to fully ripen, whereupon it turns red. The fruits are soaked to soften the flesh, which is eventually removed, leaving just the whitish seed, which is then dried. White pepper is popular in Thai cuisine and is frequently used in light-colored sauces or dishes where the dark specks of black pepper would be considered unattractive.
Red peppercorns are produced much like green peppercorns, only using the fully ripe fruit, which is treated to preserve the red color. These may also be pickled or dried before use. Sometimes in gourmet markets, you will see a mixture of dried black, red, green, and white peppercorns together in a transparent grinder. This is as much for show as it is for flavor, but it represents all the various stages and possible flavors of the piper nigrum plant. Chefs generally agree that the black pepper’s pungent flavor tends to overpower the more subtle flavors of the green, white, or red peppercorns. You might try keeping the different varieties separate first, and taste them individually before deciding for yourself how you want to blend them in your grinder.
Pink peppercorns are another variety not related to piper nigrum and are the dried berries of a South American shrub, such as Schinus molle and Schinus terebinthifolius, also known by the common name of the Peruvian Pepper Tree. You may also see these colorful peppercorns sold as Brazilian Pepper. These peppercorns are used for a variety of traditional medicinal preparations, as well as in culinary applications.
Close up of dried black peppercorns
Health Benefits of Black Pepper
In addition to the zesty flavor pepper adds to our dishes, did you know there are profound health benefits to consuming black pepper? It’s an antioxidant, and antibacterial. But one of the most important health benefits to humans is that pepper stimulates the release of stomach acid, improving the digestion of proteins. Related to this is pepper’s ability to act as a carminative, which is a fancy way of saying it helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas.
Whichever peppercorns you choose, try toasting them slightly in a dry frying pan to activate some of the volatile compounds in the essential oils. Allow to cool, then grind them. Most whole spices benefit from this practice, which helps intensify their flavors.
Peppercorn Sauce Recipe
A delicious sauce that’s easy to make and adds a touch of elegance to your favorite dish.
2 teaspoons peppercorns, briefly toasted in a dry skillet, allowed to cool, then cracked lightly using a flat-bottomed heavy pan.
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch, mixed with 1 tablespoon of water to form a slurry
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup heavy cream
Sautee shallots in butter until translucent. Add peppercorns and fry for 30 seconds or so. Add brandy, allow alcohol to cook off, then add beef stock. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce a bit. Then add tapioca starch slurry. Simmer for a minute, then reduce heat and stir in heavy cream.
Serve over grilled ribeye steak, or breaded and fried veal, pork, or chicken cutlets.
Passionate about Peppercorns!
The most traded spices in the world are peppercorns, both in monetary value and time, having been traded for thousands of years.
These days, we have access to an awe-inspiring array of peppercorns, with variations in colours, shapes and flavours. In fact, some of the peppercorns available to us are not true peppercorns, but the berries of unrelated plants.
True peppercorns are tiny little fruits, known as drupes, which grow in clusters on a vine called Piper Nigrum of the Piperaceae family. The majority of peppercorn cultivation takes place in Asia, particularly India and Vietnam. The vines need support to grow, which can be provided via living trees, bamboo frames or wooden posts.
Black, white and green peppercorns are all from the Piper Nigrum plant, the variations being the result of harvesting at various stages of ripening.
Black peppercorns are left on the vine to fully mature, then are picked and dried in the sun or blanched before drying. They have a strong spicy flavour due to the presence of the chemical piperine and varying amounts of essential oil.
White peppercorns are the seeds of black peppercorns, soaked to remove the dark coloured casings before drying. The resulting flavour is hotter and more pungent than black peppercorns, with a slightly fermented odour.
Green peppercorns are harvested whilst young then preserved or dried, hence their milder flavour.
Some peppercorns are named after the places from which they are exported or the regions where they are cultivated. Examples are:
- Lampong Pepper – an Indonesian black peppercorn from the Lampong region of Sumatra. These peppercorns are pungent, fruity and smoky.
- Tellicherry Pepper – From the Malabar coast in Kerala, Southwest India, these peppercorns are grown near the port of Thalassery, which is also known as Tellicherry. Considered to be the finest of Indian peppercorns, they have a complex rich fruity flavour and mild pungency.
- Muntok Pepper –The name given to white peppercorns cultivated in the hills surrounding Muntok on the Indonesian island of Bangkla. Soaked in natural spring water for seven days, they are then separated from their casings before being left in the sun to dry and bleach to a creamy colour.
Exotic peppercorns have established a presence in adventurous cuisine and as table condiments. These more unfamiliar peppercorns are not all true peppercorns from the Piperaceae family, some are from other species of plants.
- Cubeb Pepper – Piper Cubeba is also known as ‘tailed pepper’ due to the berries being dried with their stalks attached. Cultivated mainly in Sumatra and Java (Java Pepper), they have a pungent flavour of pepper and allspice with a camphorous aroma. Historically they were used to ward off spirits and demons, as an aphrodisiac and an aid to fertility. Nowadays they are believed to have wide-ranging medicinal properties, partly due to their antiseptic properties. As such, they are considered to be beneficial to oral health, throat and respiratory conditions, amongst others. Cubeb pepper is also used in cigarettes, gin and vodka and was a recent addition to a range of Japanese anti-aging products.
- Grains of Paradise – Having many alternative names including Guinea Grains, Alligator Pepper and African Pepper, these seeds do resemble peppercorns. They actually belong to the ginger family and are the fruits of a rhizome, not a vine. Mainly cultivated in Ghana, the grains are used throughout Africa as an everyday seasoning. They have a place in African folklore medicine and are even believed to assist with the cardio-vascular health of wild lowland gorillas, being an integral part of their natural diet. Their complex flavour of pepper, cardamom, ginger, cloves and lemon with accompanying delightful aroma has assured them a place in international cuisine and pepper connoisseurs spice mills.
- Long Pepper – Piper longum is native to India but its close relative Piper retrofractum is native to Java. Both varieties have a hot and sweet flavour, being more pungent than ordinary black pepper. So-called due to their slender elongated shape, they resemble catkins in appearance, having tiny fruits embedded in a flower spike. In India, they are mainly crushed and used in spicy vegetable pickles. They also feature in the cuisines of Malaysia and Indonesia. Historically introduced to North and East Africa by Arab traders, they are a regular ingredient in the spice blends of Morocco and Ethiopia. In the West, their peppery flavour works well in cheese dishes, particularly fondues.
- Sichuan Pepper – Unrelated to the pepper family, these are the berries of a prickly ash tree, native to the Sichuan province of southwest China. The berries split open when ripe and look like tiny versions of the buds of beech trees. It is the pinkish outer husk that has all the flavour and aroma, not the black seed within. When chewed they cause a numbing sensation on the tongue, known as ‘ma’ in Chinese which has a similar meaning to pins and needles. Sichuan pepper is very aromatic, with a scent of anise and a sweet fresh citrus flavour. It is an essential component in the blend of Chinese Five Spice and is also used on meats, in stir-fries and in Sichuan cakes and biscuits.
- Allspice – A member of the myrtle family, the berries are called peppers in many languages, eg. Jamaica Pepper, due to their resemblance to peppercorns. Allspice berries are the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica tree, a bushy tree native to the Caribbean, Central America and Southern Mexico. They are picked whilst unripe and dried in the sun. Allspice is used in many Mexican dishes such as mole and in most European cuisines, particularly in England in pickles, chutneys and cakes. In the Caribbean it is considered to be the most important spice and is an essential ingredient in Jerk seasoning, along with its leaves. It has an aroma similar to cloves, with flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and black pepper.
- Pink Peppercorns – Not peppercorns at all, but the berries of the shrub Schinus terebinthifolius, the Mexican pepper tree and Schinus molle, the Peruvian pepper tree. Although mild and sweet, they are quite pungent but not peppery. Once crushed, they are very fruity and sweet with spiciness and flavours of juniper, aniseed and pine. They are mostly used for their attractive appearance and are often mixed with other peppercorns in peppermills. They were hugely popular in the era of nouvelle cuisine until the United States banned the importation of the berries as they were believed to cause respiratory and intestinal problems. This ban has since been revoked following extensive analysis. Pink peppercorns enhance light dishes such as fish, poultry and vegetables. They are also a great addition to sweet jellies, syrups, biscuits and cakes.
Here at Seasoned Pioneers, in addition to offering the above products, our range also includes the following:
- Vietnamese Peppercorns – One of the world’s largest producers, peppercorns from Vietnam are vibrant with strong spicy tobacco notes.
- Wynad Peppercorns – cultivated in the Wynad district of Kerala, India, these peppercorns have a warming heat with a full, rounded flavour.
- Cracked Black Pepper – conveniently coarsely crushed ready for use in sauces, rubs, on peppered steaks and for general seasoning.
- Ground Black Pepper – highly versatile, for use in everything with a subtle, warm & complex flavour.
- Lemon Pepper Mix – a traditionally dry roasted blend of black peppercorns, garlic and coriander mixed with lemon powder, thyme and onion powder.
- Mixed Peppercorns – an attractive and vibrant mix of pepper flavours and heat, perfect for the pepper mill. A blend of white peppercorns, black peppercorns, allspice, pink peppercorns and green peppercorns.
- Exotic Mixed Peppercorns – The ultimate gourmet mill blend for pepper connoisseurs. A blend of white peppercorns, black peppercorns, grains of paradise, allspice, cubeb pepper, pink peppercorns, green peppercorns and Sichuan pepper.
- Gourmet Peppercorns Selection – An inspirational gift box containing Tellicherry black peppercorns, exotic mixed peppercorns, pink peppercorns, grains of paradise and Sichuan pepper.
We hope that the above information clarifies the dazzling array of peppercorns and accompanying spices that we are fortunate to have at our disposal.
Rejoice in using and experimenting with these fabulous flavourful little berries!
How to Grow Your Own Black Pepper Plants at Home
by Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is the most commonly used spice in the world and when paired with salt can be found on almost every household table in the United States. Black Pepper has known health benefits such as: it increases nutrient absorption, improves heart rate and blood pressure, promotes healthy cell growth and digestion, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and enhances the immune system. The beauty of the Black Pepper spice is that not much is needed to get the beneficial effects. Piper nigrum is native to South India, loves the hot tropics and has been in cultivation for over 2,000 years. In temperate climates, Black Pepper makes an excellent house plant.
Spice Up Your Life With a Peppercorn Plant!
The Black Pepper plant for sale at Logee’s (available in 2.5″ pot or 4″ pot) is a tropical South Asian vine that produces chains of small round fruit. By choosing the time of harvest and the method of processing, all four types of peppercorns (black, white, green and red) can be harvested from the same plant.
Piper nigrum blooms freely through the summer months and the fruits ripen the following year. Young plants can take 3-4 years to come into bloom but even modest-sized plants can yield hundreds of peppercorns.
Here are a few things you should know about growing your own black pepper plants so that you’ll soon be able to grind your own peppercorns for fresh, aromatic pepper!
• Peppercorn Fruit
Green and red peppercorn fruits are often found on the plant at the same time. The red fruit is the ripening fruit. The peppercorn can be picked whether the color is green or red depending on which type of peppercorn you desire. If you want black or green pepper as your final color then, harvest the peppercorn when it’s green. If you want white or red pepper, then harvest the peppercorn when it is red.
• Black Pepper Plant Growth Habit
Black Pepper has a vining habit so it grows well in a basket or in a pot with a stake or trellis for support. Attach the stems to the trellis so the plant climbs easily.
• Peppercorn Plant Light Requirements
In its native habit of southern India, Black Pepper is an understory plant that climbs up trees and grows in dappled light. When grown as a houseplant, it needs moderate light in an east or west window and it should be placed directly on the windowsill or close to your light source if grown in a light garden. It does benefit from some direct sunlight but not hot noonday sun. Like other tropical plants, Black Pepper can be grown outside during the summer months and brought inside for the winter.
• Ideal Temperature for Black Pepper Plant
If you are looking to optimize your flowering and fruiting, then providing daytime temperatures above 70°F (20°C) is ideal. Black Pepper grows best in temperatures above 60°F (15°C).
• Flowering Your Peppercorn Plant
The flowers start growing at the leaf nodes of new growth. The small white flowers form pendulous spikes and then small, round, green peppercorns form in chains, which in time ripen to red. Growth slows down in the winter, yet it will fruit and flower year-round. The pepper plant can produce an abundance of peppercorns in a pot as small as 8-inches.
• Fertilizing Your Black Pepper Plant
Black Pepper needs low to moderate fertilization with a balanced fertilizer. There are two ways to fertilize the pepper plant. First, you can use a soluble or liquid fertilizer applied every two weeks when you water. Or, you can use a granular organic fertilizer and top dress the plant once a month. Top dressing means to sprinkle the fertilizer on top of the soil and every time you water, a little bit of fertilizer is released. A note of caution: don’t over fertilize your black pepper plant. We use this rule of thumb: if your plant is being grown under high light and high temperatures then increase the fertilizer. If your pepper plant is grown under lower light and temperature levels, then decrease the fertilizer. During the winter months stop fertilizing the plant until warmer temperatures and higher light levels resume in spring.
• Black Spots on the Peppercorn Plant Leaf
Black spots on the backsides of the pepper leaves are totally normal. They are small crystalline balls that contain sugars called exudates. Over time, these balls turn black. They are sometimes mistaken for insects. They are not. Do not try to remove them. They are part of the plant’s normal physiology and do not harm the plant.
• Black Pepper Plant Root Disease
If your growing conditions are too cool and wet, then your pepper plant can be susceptible to root disease. The best way to prevent this problem is to grow the plant in a clay pot and allow the soil to dry out between waterings and make sure your daytime temperatures are above 70°F and your night temperatures don’t drop below 60°F.
• Black Pepper Plant Pests
Pepper has few insect pests. Mealy bug is the main culprit but only if other infected plants are nearby.
Black Pepper is a resilient tropical fruiting plant. It makes an excellent hanging basket or an attractive container plant with a stake or trellis for the plant to climb on. The excitement of harvesting your own peppercorns and grinding your own black pepper makes Piper nigrum a highly sought after and well-loved plant for the home fruiting garden.
For more information on growing Black Pepper Plants (Piper nigrum):
• See our Black Pepper Plant – 2.5″ pot
• See our Black Pepper Plant – 4″ pot
• Read our book, Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere.
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin, (Storey Publishing, 2010)
• Download our Black Pepper Plant PDF Care Sheet
• Watch our Black Pepper Plant informational video below:
Last Updated: June 18, 2019
The Ultimate Guide To Growing Black Pepper
Black pepper is the most commonly used spice in the world and, paired with salt, is found on most tables in the U.S. The plant that it comes from, common pepper (Piper nigrum), has been cultivated in India for more than 2,000 years for culinary uses. Today, most pepper is imported from India, Sumatra, Japan, Borneo, and the Philippines. Pepper enthusiasts believe that Malabar produces the best pepper.
Pepper isn’t grown commercially in the U.S. This perennial vine is hardy only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 11b through 12, and thrives in moist, humid conditions. Few U.S. locales provide the necessary growing requirements.
However, you can grow peppercorns at home with a little extra patience. In addition to its culinary value, pepper makes a lovely houseplant or landscaping plant with its glossy, evergreen leaves and large flowers. Learn how to plant and grow your own peppercorns.
Peppercorn seeds are widely available through online nurseries. Prior to planting the seeds, soak them overnight to soften the seed coats. Plant the seeds ¼ inch deep in a rich, well-draining potting mix. Space the seeds three inches apart. Spray the seed tray frequently with a mister to keep the starting mix moist and cover the seed tray with plastic wrap. Store it in a warm location, such as the top of the refrigerator or on top of a radiator.
Peppercorn seeds can take up to thirty days to germinate at temperatures between seventy-five and eighty-five degrees. At lower temperatures, they germinate slowly or not at all.
Once the seeds germinate, seedlings can be replanted when they stand four to six inches tall. If you live in a very warm climate, plant them directly outdoors in a protected location with partial shade. The plants need rich, moist, well-draining soil and warm, humid conditions. Peppers can’t tolerate temperatures below sixty degrees. Bring plants indoors or wrap them in a blanket if colder weather threatens.
In other parts of the country, plant peppercorns in large pots. Grow them outdoors during the summer and move them indoors during the winter, or grow them year-round in a conservatory or greenhouse. Houseplants need bright light and consistent moisture. Spray the foliage regularly with a bottle of water to increase humidity. Don’t allow room temperatures to fall below sixty degrees.
Pepper plants have long, vigorous vines and can reach twelve to fifteen feet high. The plants need a strong trellis or structure to scramble over. Indoors, you can install a trellis in a large pot or even grow them as a hanging plant instead.
Peppers need moderately fertile soil to perform well. Fertilize them in the spring before new vigorous growth emerges with a balanced organic fertilizer like Protogrow™ and augmented with a mineral solution like SeaMazing. Fertilize outdoor vines according to package directions. Indoors, Protogrow™ and SeaMazing are viable fertilizer options as well. Because nutrients leach more quickly out of potted soil than regular garden soil, fertilize houseplants every three to four weeks during the growing season. Water houseplants more frequently, as well.
Growth will slow somewhat during the winter as temperatures cool. Continue to water the plants occasionally to keep the soil slightly moist.
Pests and Problems
For most gardeners, the biggest challenge is simply providing enough heat and humidity for these tender plants. Peppers have few insect pests. Outdoors, flea beetles or pepper weevils might bother young plants. The damage is rarely severe, although an application of rotenone can dispatch the pests. Indoors, you might notice aphids on the undersides of the leaves. Try spraying the leaves with a steady stream of water or applying an insecticidal soap or oil.
Root rots can afflict pepper plants, but they are easily prevented by providing well-draining soil. Amend heavy soils with compost or grow peppers in raised beds.
Peppers need a long, long growing season to produce peppercorns. Fortunately, the flowers are attractive in their own right and the foliage is glossy and evergreen. The cream, white, or yellow flowers appear from spring through summer, followed by the slow fruit production.
Peppercorns form in clusters of fruit that slowly ripen from green to red. They are usually harvested just as they reach the red stage. Once harvested, the red peppercorns are separated and dried, either in the sun or in a food dryer for about three days. The process is complete when the peppercorns are blackened and fully dry. At this point, they can be ground as black pepper.
White peppercorn is made by removing the red hull. The remaining peppercorns are then dried and ground into a mild-tasting form of pepper. Finally, green pepper is made by harvesting the peppercorns while they are still green and drying them.
A pepper plant can take three to four years to produce fruit from the time you plant the seed. Houseplants may never produce fruit.
Ground pepper can be added to almost any cooked dish, as well as certain fresh recipes. It has a pungent, sharp taste that freshens most recipes. Additionally, though, black pepper can improve digestion and reduce gas.
Ground pepper only stays fresh for about three months, but peppercorns will last indefinitely. To make the most of your harvest, store peppercorns in an airtight container in a cool, dark location. Grind them immediately before use for best flavor.
Add pepper to soups, meat dishes, or salad dressings. Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and ground black pepper for a simple but elegant dipping sauce for bread.
L & L Pepperfarms was established in 1984 after a down turn in the sugar industry forced the need to diversify into other horticultural crops. After working in Indonesia and the Philippines and seeing the diverse crops being cultivated, pepper stood out as a potential crop that could be grown in our tropical climate.
Pepper originated in the southwestern coastal region of India from where it spread to many parts of Asia, Africa and South America. Today, the southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka together with Brazil make up the IPC or International Pepper Community. World production has remained fairly constant at about 200,000 tonnes a year for export. Of this production the IPC countries produce 88%.
Table 1. World pepper production (figures from IPC)
|Table 1. World Pepper Production and export – countrywise
(average, 1989- 1998)
Non IPC countries growing pepper are Vietnam, China, Madagascar and Mexico, being minor contributors.
Whole black and white peppercorns account for 95% of pepper traded in the world. The remaining 5% is traded in the forms of pepper oleoresin, pepper oil, green pepper and ground pepper.
L & L Pepperfarms has currently 1.2 hectares under production with another 0.4 hectare coming online in 2 years.
The Pepper Plant
The pepper the world’s most widely used spice is obtained from a tropical climbing vine, Piper nigrum and is from the Piperaceae family. It is a native plant of southwestern India. They are normally grown from stem or terminal cuttings, rarely from seeds. The root system is developed from adventitious roots formed at the nodes, which are buried in the soil at planting. As the vegetative (orthotropic) shoot ascends, a simple leaf is produced at each node. A bunch of short adventitious roots is also formed to help the shoot adhere to the supports. At each node, there is an axillary bud, which develops into a lateral (plagiotropic) branch to bear the fruit spikes. Both the climbing and lateral shoots can branch upon cutting, but only the climbing shoots remain vegetative in growth. In the wild state the plant reaches lengths of 10 metres or more, but its growth under cultivation is controlled to ease harvesting.
The flower spike arises at the node opposite the leaf. Most cultivars have bisexual flowers, although male flowers are sometimes produced at the tips of the spikes. Flowers are mostly self-pollinated usually through wind although rain and ants may act as pollinating agents. The fruit is a berry, pale green and soft in the early stage, but turns dark green and hard as it develops. The outer skin (exocarp) becomes yellow and bright red and turns soft as it ripens. Each berry contains a single seed enclosed in a pulpy mesocarp. The commercial black peppercorn is the entire dried berry whereas the white peppercorn is the actual seed.
The peppercorn owes its pungency to the presence of alkaloids – piperine, chavicine and piperettine. The volatile essential oils impart the typical aroma of pepper. Together these compounds constitute the oleoresin, which can be recovered by solvent extraction. Varieties and also the growing locale influence the spiciness and pungency.
Soil and climatic requirements
The pepper is the fruit of perennial climbing vine that thrives in a warm and wet tropical climate. Moisture is required throughout the year as the plant is not able to withstand prolonged dryness. Low elevations give the best results and level ground is most suitable, provided there is no flooding. Soils should be well-drained, as waterlogging conditions result in poor growth and a high incidence of foot rot.
Terminal cuttings taken from 1 to 2-year-old plants usually propagate pepper. Traditionally, cuttings with five sections are used, with the bottom 3 buried in soil either in a nursery bed or pots. About 12 weeks are required for rooting and development of buds. For field planting purposes we plant 3 cuttings directly beside the post with at least a 75% strike rate, eliminating the need for a nursery. Plants are planted at a density of 1900 per hectare.
Growing vines are trained up on support; hardwood posts are used, but we are looking for alternatives. We found that living posts of leguminous trees too difficult to maintain.
Vines must be pruned to encourage the formation of a desired canopy and encourage development of lateral branches. Initial pruning is done at 3 months and thereafter regularly until the vines reach the top of the support. After each harvest the terminal buds are trimmed to prevent further vertical growth. Occasional tying is needed to help train the vine up the post.
Pepper has high requirements for nutrients. Liming with dolomite is essential to improve Ca and Mg nutrition for the vines. Young vines must be fed frequently with N, P and K. N and K are in strong demand for mature vines. The vines should not be allowed to flower freely until they are 2 years old. Since it takes 8-9 months for the fruit to mature, the first harvest is around 3 years after planting.
Harvesting and processing
Spikes are usually thrown in December/January and are harvested around October/November. Pepper produces a minor and major crop in a year. Spikes are picked by hand when mature but still green. Unlike major producing countries where harvest is continuous over a 2-3 month period, for ease of management the crop is picked over a 2-week period. Once picked the berries are removed mechanically from the spike and then dried in the sun for 34 days. At present we are getting a 29% recovery rate from harvest to drying.
A small percentage of the crop is left to turn red and is then picked for processing into white pepper. The ripe berries are separated from the spike and then soaked in water to remove their pericarp and then sun dried.
Pepper by virtue of its versatile use in the modem world has earned the reputation as the King of spices. In developed countries, the usage of pepper in food industry has increased substantially because of its taste, flavour and seasoning characteristics. More than 60% of pepper is consumed in food industrial and food service sectors due to shift in the eating habits all over the world and the balance quantity is consumed in household, medicine, perfume, health and beauty segments. Ethnic foods particularly Indian, Chinese and Thai are having a growing impact in many countries and expanding to cover a wide range of tastes in food. In developing countries 90% of the pepper is consumed in the household segment.
Pepper both black and white is a principal spice being traded in the international spice market. Majority is traded in whole/unground state, though in recent years however, there has been a significant increase in the trade of value added pepper products from producing countries.
Pepper products, which are popularly traded internationally are pepper powder, green pepper, pepper oil and pepper oleoresin.
The demand/consumption of pepper is growing on average of 2.5% annually.
Pepper price tends to move in a cyclical way and price fluctuation can be very different from one year to the next. In general, price varies substantially, largely because of fluctuations in supply in major producing countries. The price swings were accentuated by speculative trading in the past, but this has been less evident in recent years.
There are different standards specification for pepper such as ESA (European Spice Association), ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) and ISO (Int. Standardisation Organisation) standards, in addition to different standards set by the major producing countries. The parameters, test methods, methods of drawing samples and definitions are different in many of the existing standards. We use the ASTA standard in regulating our quality.
Australia imports 2000 tonnes of various forms of pepper. Production from our 1.4 hectares varies according to pest and disease pressure and climatic conditions. We have established a niche market through a lot of hard footslogging and persistence. Higher world prices and our quality have seen our product hold its own with our buyers. At present we have concentrated on the dried market where we sell to wholesalers and also value add and sell direct to the supermarket chains in the north. A small percentage of our crop is sold as fresh green peppercorns into the markets. These are picked at the immature stage, as the berry needs to be soft inside to be edible. The next area for development is the pepper oil and oleoresin market.
The viability of pepper in the wet tropics will depend on world markets and prices and the ability to mechanise some of the processes involved in harvesting and processing. Traditionally pepper growing in undeveloped countries is on small holdings where fluctuations in prices determine the inputs the vines receive, low world prices-low inputs-lower production, hence the cyclical nature of this commodity.
Where Does Black Pepper Come From?
Most of us have a pepper shaker on our kitchen table, but do you know where that pepper actually comes from? Learn all about black pepper, including its history, health benefits, and even how it contributed to European exploration of the Americas.
I got a plant in the mail the other day, and when I unearthed it from all the wrappings, I thought at first that it was just a standard ivy plant. Then I read the tag attached to it: Piper nigrum.
Whoa, I was thrilled! A friend had sent me an actual Piper nigrum plant. I was beside myself with excitement at the thought of growing a plant species that single-vinedly was responsible for the rise and fall of empires. Christopher Columbus learned about the “New World” while searching for a faster route to find black pepper and spices. Now, this is one special plant.
What Is Piper Nigrum?
Piper nigrum is more commonly known as the black pepper plant. Yes, as in the better half of the table condiment duo, salt and pepper, and that’s just my humble opinion. Pepper is the most common spice in the world. The peppercorn is actually the fruit of the plant, and depending on when it is harvested, processed, and dried, it can produce black, green, or white peppercorns. Some people mistakenly group pink peppercorns in here, but pink peppercorns, originating in Peru, have no relation to Piper nigrum and only bear a spherical and culinary resemblance. It’s an easy mistake to make.
Piper nigrum, the black pepper plant, grows as a vine and may attach itself to nearby trees for support.
Today, global black pepper consumption is estimated to be about 400,000 tons per year and is increasing steadily. In our shop, out of the hundred or so spices and blends we carry, pepper has always been the bestseller.
WHERE DOES PEPPER COME FROM?
Piper nigrum belongs to the Piperaceae family and is a climbing vine indigenous to the Malabar Coast of India. Today, however, Vietnam has made huge efforts to become the largest producer of pepper and is responsible for almost one third of the total pepper production worldwide. India, Brazil, and Indonesia produce the remaining two thirds. Oh, and then there is my little pepper plant on my kitchen windowsill in New Hampshire, only a couple years away from producing its own handful of pungent little peppercorn fruit.
Did Pepper Lead Europeans to the Americas?
Pepper may be the one spice that has had the biggest impact on shaping the world. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, Europeans valued pepper so highly that it was often presented as a gift, rent, dowry, bribe, or even to pay taxes.
In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus set out with his three ships in order to find a new trade route to the East Indies. It was believed that by sailing west he would reach the east. The allure with the east was that it was the mysterious source of the coveted spices, largely pepper.
At that time, all the spices that made it to Europe were controlled by the cities of Venice and Genoa. Since the early 8th century, the Arabs and the Venetians had an arrangement in which all spices that crossed the Mediterranean Sea would go through the hands of the Venetians. This monopoly and ability to set the price high is what led to pepper’s status as a luxury item in medieval Europe. Even today, there is a Dutch phrase “pepper expensive” which refers to an item of exorbitant cost.
The Europeans’ rising demand and desire for the spice and the Venetians’ price gouging was impetus enough for Europe to seek out a more direct route for their desired spices, and this kicked off what would later be called the Age of Discovery.
Health Benefits of Pepper: Why We Love It
The love affair with pepper is a spicy one and runs long and deep into our past. While we love pepper for its pungent flavor and ability to disguise bland foods, it also offers medicinal and preservative abilities. It has proven anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and antioxidant properties. The main active alkaloid present in pepper is piperine. It is this chemical compound that is also responsible for pepper’s hot taste and health benefits.
Today, pepper may not be seen as a status symbol as it once was in Europe, but is has earned itself a permanent spot on our dinner tables next to the salt. At my dinner table, “Please pass the pepper,” is my go-to phrase, regardless of the meal being served. Now to just keep my Piper nigrum alive and thriving long enough to see and taste its pungent peppercorns.
Now learn more about pepper’s partner, salt, in our article, “Six Types of Salt and How to Use Each.”
Black pepper, (Piper nigrum), also called pepper, perennial climbing vine of the family Piperaceae and the hotly pungent spice made from its fruits. Black pepper is native to the Malabar Coast of India and is one of the earliest spices known. Widely used as a spice around the world, pepper also has a limited usage in medicine as a carminative (to relieve flatulence) and as a stimulant of gastric secretions.
black pepperUnripe fruit of the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum).DevadaskrishnanpepperLearn about black pepper (Piper nigrum): how it is produced, its history in the spice trade, the use of its berries (peppercorns) in food, and the compounds that give black pepper its pungency.© American Chemical Society (A Britannica Publishing Partner)See all videos for this article
In early historic times pepper was widely cultivated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, where it became highly regarded as a condiment. Pepper became an important article of overland trade between India and Europe and often served as a medium of exchange; tributes were levied in pepper in ancient Greece and Rome. In the Middle Ages the Venetians and the Genoese became the main distributors in Europe, and their virtual monopoly of the trade helped instigate the search for an eastern sea route. The plant is widely cultivated throughout Indonesia and has been introduced into tropical areas of Africa and of the Western Hemisphere.
The black pepper plant is a woody climber and may reach heights of 10 metres (33 feet) by means of its aerial roots. Its broad shiny green leaves are alternately arranged. The small flowers are in dense slender spikes of about 50 blossoms each. The fruits, which are sometimes called peppercorns, are drupes about 5 mm (0.2 inch) in diameter. They become yellowish red at maturity and bear a single seed. Their odour is penetrating and aromatic; the taste is hot, biting, and very pungent. Ground black pepper contains up to 3 percent essential oil that has the aromatic flavour of Capsicum peppers but not the pungency. The characteristic flavour is principally derived from the chemical piperine, though the seeds also contain chavicine, piperidine, and piperettine.
The plant requires a long rainy season, fairly high temperatures, and partial shade for best growth. Propagation is usually by stem cuttings, which are set out near a tree or a pole that will serve as a support. Pepper plants are sometimes interspersed in tea or coffee plantations. They begin bearing in 2 to 5 years and may produce for as long as 40 years.
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The fruits are picked when they begin to turn red. The collected fruits are immersed in boiling water for about 10 minutes, which causes them to turn dark brown or black in an hour. Then they are spread out to dry in the sun for three or four days. The whole peppercorns, when ground, yield black pepper. White pepper is obtained by removing the dark outer part of the pericarp, and the flavour is less pungent than that of black pepper. The outer coating is softened either by keeping the berries in moist heaps for 2 or 3 days or by keeping them in sacks submerged in running water for 7 to 15 days, depending on the region. The softened outer coating is then removed by washing and rubbing or by trampling, and the berries are spread in the sun to dry. Whole white pepper can also be prepared by grinding off the outer coating mechanically.
Various plants called pepper, including the pepper tree (Schinus molle), the pepper vine (Ampelopsis arborea), and the sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia), are grown as ornamental plants and are not used as spices.