Showing posts with label black. Show all posts
Showing posts with label black. Show all posts

Oct 13, 2016

Ingredients: Black Pepper, Kali Mirch, Gol Mirch, Gulki, Marts, Marich


Often called the "king of spices," black pepper is has a long history of use as a spice, a preservative, and even as currency. The history of black pepper is the history of the spice trade. By far the most widely seasoning in the world, black pepper adds it's pungent and aromatic warmth to dishes in nearly every cuisine. Originating in India's southern coastal region of Malabar, black pepper has been making it's way westward for over 2,000 years. 


The word pepper is derived from the Sanskrit word for long pepper, pippali. The ancient Greeks and Latin speakers turned pippali into the Greek word peperi and the Latin word piper. The Romans referred both to black pepper and long pepper as piper, as they erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. The names of pepper in almost all Euro­pean lan­guages are derived from the Latin root piper.  Ex­amples include Old English pipor which has evolved to pepper in modern English, Czech pepř, French poivre, German Pfeffer, Finnish pippuri, Ukrainian perets, and Yiddish fefer. In South Asia, the word for black pepper is derived from the Sanskrit root marichan. The modern Hindi word mirch meaning chili or pepper comes from this root. In Urdu and Hindi black pepper is called kali mirch (literally black pepper) or gol mirch (literally round pepper). In Kashmiri black pepper is called marts and in Nepali it is called marich staying closer to the Sanskrit root.

A black pepper farm in a forest in Southern India.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a tropical, perennial vine in the family Piperaceae. Climbing with aerial roots the vine can grow to over thirty feet high. At maturity the vine sports glossy, green heart shaped alternate leaves. The leaves have a sweetly aromatic flavor and are edible also. In India and some parts of Southeast Asia the leaves are used to wrap betel nuts, making the slightly narcotic mouth freshener called paan. Black pepper vines need a a warm, wet, tropical climate and a well drained loamy soil rich in minerals and organic matter. Vines can yield for up to forty years. The plants are propagated by cuttings which are rooted and tied to rough barked trees or trellises.

Black pepper vines growing up brick trellises at a pepper plantation in Viet Nam.
In late spring, the vine produces pendulous spikes of tiny white flowers which develop into clusters of 50 to 100 small green berries. As the berries ripen they turn yellow and eventually become a rosy red. A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes.


Black pepper is produced from the berries of the pepper vine when they have grown to full size but still remain green. Since clusters mature at different times, harvesting from can take place over several months. 

The green berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days. Traditionally, they are separated by hand and laid out on woven mats to dry in the hot sun. Some commercial growers speed the process up by dipping the berries in hot water and using a kiln to dry them. During the drying process an enzyme in the outer shell of the peppercorn is activated. This enzyme causes oxidation in the outer shell turning it black and creating a volatile oil containing piperine and oleoresins. The volatile oil is what gives black peppercorns their characteristic heat, pungency, and robust complexity of flavor. 


All black pepper is not the same. There's no shortage of places to get your black pepper from in modern times. Being the world's most popular spice it is grown all across the narrow, 15-degree band around the equator called the spice regions. There are over 75 cultivars of black pepper in India alone. As of 2013, Vietnam is the world's largest producer and exporter of pepper producing 34% of the world's black pepper crop. Varieties from Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Ecuador and Brazil are available also. As with wine grapes or other fruits and vegetables, the terroir or sun, rainfall, and minerals in the soil of the region where the black pepper is grown affects the flavor and aroma of black pepper.
Black peppercorns from the South Indian city of Tellicherry (now knoown as Thalassery) are considered the finest quality in the world. What makes the flavor of Tellicherry peppercorns so superior? Their bright freshness is described as being reminiscent of citrus, pine, or fruit is perfectly balanced with a sweet heat. This gives peppercorns from Tellicherry a superior complexity in aroma and flavor than rivals from other regions. The lack of the bitterness or earthiness found in other black pepper varieties also distinguishes Tellicherry peppercorns.


Black peppercorns are best bought whole. Black pepper begins to lose flavor as soon as it is ground. The volatile oils responsible for black peppers' complex blend of heat and pungency soon dissipate after grinding. For peak flavor grind pepper only as you need it. A peppermill or a mortar and pestle make grinding fresh black pepper a simple task. Whole black peppercorns will keep their flavor almost indefinitely if stored away from sunlight and heat. Good quality black peppercorns should also be uniform in size and dark in color.


While a shaker full of black pepper is a common sight on Western dining tables in most South Asian cuisines black pepper plays no special role. With a few exceptions black pepper is simply another member of the vast pantheon of spices the Subcontinent enjoys. Black pepper is a common minor ingredient the spice mixes of garam masala, South Indian sambar podi, and Anglo-Indian curry powders. You may occasionally see mangos and watermelon eaten with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper to intensify their flavor in India. You might even see lassi, a cold yogurt drink, made with black pepper. In the Winter an extra dash of black pepper may accompany fresh ginger in masala chai as it is considered warming to the body. Only in Rajasthani, Sri Lankan, and Chettinad cuisines is black pepper used as the main spice rather than an accent in dishes. Personally, I put a bit of black pepper into every savory dish as well as my wintertime cuppa chai!

Dec 14, 2015

Ingredients: Kali Elaichi, Black or Brown Cardamom

This is the spice commonly referred to as black or brown cardamom. It is a seed pod with an intense, smoky, resinous, and almost anti-septic camphor-like flavor. Both the seeds and pods are traditionally used to flavor hearty, savory dishes of certain regional cuisines of India and Pakistan. It is often used in garam masala mixes. The spice is called badi elaichi or kali elaichi in Hindi and Urdu.

Amomum subulatum (also known as Nepal cardamom). 
The black or brown cardamom plant is a member of the ginger family like it's close relative the green cardamom.  It has rather inconspicuous blossoms and the seed pods form at the base. The seed pods are dried and supposedly smoked before being sold for consumption. Black cardamom is unusual in that the flavor actually improves with age. The harsh camphor flavor mellows to smooth smoky notes over time.

Look closely at the base of the plant to see its creamy yellow flowers.
Black and brown cardamoms are primarily grown in Nepal. I have been told the seed pods are picked when unripe and traditionally dried over an open flame in large iron pans intensifyin their smoky flavor. I've never actually seen this done. I've only seen the red, unripened pods lying on nanglo (Nepali basket trays) drying in the sun. Nepalis often chew the seeds of black/brown cardamoms to freshen the breath, calm an upset stomach, or after dinner as a palate cleanser.



I had never seen, heard of, nor tasted black/brown cardamom before moving to the Subcontinent. I would reckon most westerners are not familiar with this spice either. Black/brown cardamom has the same sort of camphor/citrus notes as green cardamom but has a smokiness that's almost like bacon. So if your vegan friends miss that bacon-y smokiness in their beans or pea soup you can use black/brown cardamom!



The perfume by i Profumo di Firenze called "Ambra di Nepal" is said to have notes of amber, vanilla, and cardamom. I wonder if the accord described as "deep, rich resinous, like incense smoke swirling over dusty cardamom" contains this native Nepali black/brown spice, not the green or white cardamom we westerners are more familiar with in Scandinavian treats?
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