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By which we mean: the flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, piper nigrum, cultivated for its fruit, peppercorns, used as a spice or seasoning. Peppercorns are drupes (stonefruits) although the fruit part is very small, just a thin skin (particularly as they are usually picked before they ripen), and the peppercorn is the stone and seed inside. Black peppercorns begin their lives as green peppercorns which are then cooked (turning them black) and dried, making them ready for our grinders. Green pepper has a softer, more aromatic flavour. White peppercorns are made by letting the fruit ripen and then drying it. Red or pink peppercorns are the ripe berries of the South American pepper tree, they’re genetically closer to a cashew than the Piperacaea family. They’re much softer than peppercorns although their flavour is quite similar.
The difference between Peppers and Peppercorns
Pepper the vegetable, is a new world plant, unknown to Europeans, Africans, or Asians until the sixteenth century and called Chile by the inhabitants of South America. Piper nigrum, however grows in Asia and has been used across Europe and Africa for over 1000 years. When explorers found this new vegetable in South America they recognised the spicy flavour and named it after the humble peppercorn and the name has stuck ever since.
Pepper is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. It has also shown to improve brain function in animal studies, specifically for symptoms related to brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A supplement contain piperine (from pepper) and other compounds has also been shown to help the body manage blood sugar levels. Black pepper alone however has been shown to help reduce cholesterol, including LDL (bad) cholesterol. Black pepper has been shown to boost the absorption of other compounds that help lower cholesterol like curcumin (from tumeric) and red yeast rice. Black pepper has been shown to be effective in test tube studies at reducing cancer growth and weakening cancer cells’ defence to chemotherapy, however more research is needed to apply this research to people. Research has also suggested that black pepper may increase the good bacteria in your gut.
Pepper was so valuable that it was used as currency in ancient Greece and Rome. It was again used in the Middle Ages to pay rent and tax, it is impossible to fake, durable and valuable, so it proved an excellent currency.
Pepper contains piperine which irritates the nerve ending inside the mucous membrane of our noses, this is why pepper makes us sneeze. Pepperspray on the other hand contains capsaicin, the same chemical which gives chilli peppers their heat.
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