Pepper is one of those spices that is so ubiquitous that we definitely take it for granted. Along with salt, pepper appears on just about every table -- in restaurants and kitchens alike. It's used in cuisines across the globe, and in fact, it is the most widely used spice in the world.
Pepper's pungent, spicy flavor makes it a powerful addition to recipes, hot or cold, sweet or savory. Sometimes just a few, solid cranks of freshly ground pepper can carry a whole dish -- like steak au poivre or cacio e pepe. But how much do you really know about this trusty spice? Did you know, for example, that peppercorns are fruit? Or that they've been used in cooking for thousands of years?
Here are 10 facts about peppercorn, to broaden your horizons and deepen your knowledge of the most popular spice around.
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Black pepper is a vine from the Piperaceae family. Peppercorns are the vine's fruit that have been dried for use. The vines can grow up to 13 feet tall.
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Green peppercorns are unripe, dried fruit. Black peppercorns have been cooked and then dried. White peppercorns come from mature but not fully ripe fruit that has had the skin removed. Red peppercorns come from fully mature fruit and are very rare.
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At one point it was considered as valuable as gold.
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It has been used to treat
digestive problems -- as both an appetite stimulant and indigestion treatment -- and has also been used topically to ease pain
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He was buried in 1213 BCE, and the peppercorns are said to have been used as part of the embalming process.
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Pepper contains an alkaloid
called piperine, which irritates the nasal nerve endings and causes people to sneeze to expel the chemicals. Piperine is also responsible for pepper's spice.
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No wonder it is sometimes referred to as the "King of Spices."
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Never use the pre-ground stuff. Its flavor pales in comparison.
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