The History of Black pepper

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The History of Black pepper

The word "pepper" comes from the Dravidian word for long pepper, pippali. Ancient Greek and Latin turned pippali into the Latin piper, which was used by the Romans to refer both to black pepper and long pepper, as the Romans believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. Today's "pepper" derives from the Old English pipor. Pepper has been used as a spice in India since prehistoric times. Pepper, ‘The King of spices’ were an often referred to as "black gold"  Pepper made a good currency because it retains its flavor and thus intrinsic value for a long time. Peppercorns are the most widely traded spice in the world.

Black Pepper Origins

The black pepper (Piper nigrum) which originated from the Western Ghats of Kerala State in India plays an important role in global trading.  Piper nigrum, a flowering vine, can still be found growing wild in that area. Pepper became a precious form of commerce and spread from India to the world. Pepper was popular even as early as 2000 years ago and it was an important trading commodity within the Oriental countries.

Black Pepper History

The trading of black pepper dates back to 4,000 years ago.  It still remains as an ingredient in Indian cooking. This spice was mentioned in the early Tamil literature and the epic Mahabharata, written in 4th century BCE. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used pepper as part of his healing arsenal. In Egypt, black pepper was used in the mummification rituals. It was found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II after his death in 1213 BCE.

In Europe, the first spice used was pepper and it gained an enormous social and economic value there. Greeks were known to use long as well as black pepper as early as the 4th century BCE, though it was probably an uncommon and expensive item. Trade routes of the time were by land, or in ships which travelled through the coastlines of the Arabian Sea. Black pepper was less popular at the time because of long pepper's greater spiciness and its easier accessibility from the north-western part of India, than the black pepper from further south.

Since ancient times there remained an ambiguity between black pepper (Piper nigrum) and the dried fruit of long pepper (Piper longum). The Romans often referred to either as just "piper". Open-ocean crossing of the Arabian Sea became very common after Rome's conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE.  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. Pliny the Elder's Natural History tells us the prices in Rome around 77 CE: "Long pepper ... is fifteen denarii per pound, while that of white pepper is seven, and of black, four." Pliny also complains "there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces."

Cookbooks from the 3rd century included pepper in majority of its recipes. Edward Gibbon wrote, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that pepper was "a favourite ingredient of the most expensive Roman cookery".

The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, taxed all peppers, except black. After the fall of Rome, others took over the spice trade, first the Persians and then the Arabs. The central portions of the spice trade came under Islamic control by the end of the Dark Ages. The rise of Italian city states especially Venice and Genoa was funded mainly by the spice trade through the Mediterranean.

A huge desire for pepper was created when Arab traders introduced the spice to Western Europe and the modern history of peppercorns began. Through silk route, peppercorns and other commodities soon made their way from India to Western Europe. The Arab traders realized that they were middlemen in a highly profitable trade.

Constantinople, present day Istanbul which is situated in the dividing line between Western Europe and the Middle East became the centre of spice trade in Rome. From Constantinople, spices from the east reached Europe through the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which eventually connects to the Mediterranean Sea.

The main intention of Christopher Columbus during his voyage was to obtain peppercorns and other exotic spices from India, but he discovered America instead of reaching the Spice Islands on the west coast of India. As he couldn’t find pepper, he brought back chili peppers and called this new spice "pepper", creating confusion between the two spices that persists even today.

During the 16th century, the Portuguese empire monopolized the spice trade, which was later broken up by the English and Dutch. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, discovered a trade route around the Cape of Good Hope to India. The introduction of this trade route made Portugal a dominant power in the trade of black pepper that continued to the 18th century.

If poetic reports of Tang Meng are correct, black pepper was known in China since 2nd century BCE. When Tang Meng was sent by Emperor Wu to south-west China, he is said to have come across something called jujiang or "sauce-betel". Historians think 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.

Black pepper made its first appearance in Chinese texts, as hujiao or "foreign pepper" in the 3rd century BCE. By the 12th century, black pepper became popular among the wealthy and powerful, sometimes taking the place of China's native Sichuan pepper. In the early 15th century, Admiral Zheng He and his expeditionary fleets returned with a large amount of black pepper. This made black pepper a common commodity.

Eventually, the pepper plant, long grown in India, made its way to the New World. Pepper continues to dominate the spice trade throughout the world. Pepper represents one-quarter of all spices traded today. Even today, many poor families in Asia often keep this prized spice as a type of savings for a rainy day.

 

 

 

Reference:

  1. Ancient history encyclopedia
  2. Andrew Dalby (2000). Dangerous Tastes. University of California Press.
  3. Finlay, Robert (2008). "The Voyages of Zheng He: Ideology, State Power, and Maritime Trade in Ming China". Journal of the Historical Society 8 (3): 337.
  4. H. G. Rawlinson (1916). Intercourse between India and the Western world. Asian Educational Press.
  5. Isabella Gladd (2008). The Storied Origins Of Black Pepper, The Origin, History and Uses Of Black Pepper. 
  6. Lionel D. Barnett (1999). Antiquities of India: An Account of the History and Culture of Ancient Hindustan. Atlantic Publishers and Distributers.
  7. Stephanie Fitzgerald (2008). Ramses II, Egyptian Pharaoh, Warrior and Builder. Compass Point Books. Pp. 88.
  8. T.R. Sesha Iyengar(1925). Dravidian India. Asian Educational Services.
  9. Yule Henry, Cordier, Henri, Translation from the Travels of Marco Polo: The complete Yule- Cordier Edition. Vol. 2, pp. 204.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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