Pepe

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Pepper is, by far, the most widely known and commercialised spice in Western countries and the king of the kitchen throughout the world. It is native to the monsoon forests of the Malabar coast, in south-western India, but it is extensively cultivated also in tropical countries. There are many kinds of pepper, but they are actually all obtained from the same plant, harvested at different stages of ripening. Its fruits reached Europe by land in Greek and Roman times, and the plant is now widespread to all temperate, humid climates.

Peppercorns are the unripe fruits of Piper Nigrum, a flowering vine belonging to the Piparaceae family which reaches maturity in 7-8 years and then yields fruit for 15-20 years. The same fruit undergoes different processes to produce different types of spices. More specifically: - Black pepper, the most commonly used variety, is harvested when the fruits are still unripe, and dried in the sun until it turns black. - White pepper is obtained from the fully ripe fruits, which are soaked in water for about a week and then rubbed to remove the outer layer. - Green pepper is also made from the unripe fruits. The berries are then preserved in brine or dried. - Red peppercorns from Piper nigrum is distinct from the more-common dried "pink peppercorns", and is made from the ripe fruit of the plant, harvested as soon as they turn red and then dried.

For centuries pepper was used in the East and in the West as a form of commodity money. The Chinese nicknamed it the "westerners' fagara" and saw it as an exotic alternative to their spice. In the Middle Ages pepper was used instead of money to pay rents, taxes and as a dowry. This precious spice was so expensive that in the kitchen, whenever possible, it was replaced with other herbs having a similar spicy taste. The strong demand for pepper was one of the reasons encouraging a few Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama, to pioneer the Spice Route from Europe to the Indian Ocean in the period between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Come tutte le spezie orientali, il pepe è stato nella storia sia un condimento che una medicina. Fra i primi ad usarlo ci furono gli Egizi, che lo impiegavano nei procedimenti di imbalsamazione delle mummie e nella cura di alcune malattie. Anche gli antichi Greci, già dal IV secolo a.C., lo usavano in medicina soprattutto come antidoto per i veleni, ma anche per controllare disturbi digestivi e per curare le influenze. I Romani usavano il pepe nero come ingrediente di numerose composizioni medicinali, prima fra tutte quella della “Teriaca”, un noto rimedio contro i veleni che si è diffuso in brevissimo tempo. Il pepe nero è citato nella medicina Ayurveda, Siddha e Unani in quanto, insieme a zafferano e pepe lungo, è uno degli ingredienti del “Trikatu”, miscela di spezie utilizzata per favorire la digestione e stimolare il metabolismo. Il pepe sembra possedere inoltre proprietà antisettiche e persino afrodisiache. L’utilizzo del pepe è molto diffuso anche per uso esterno, nei centri benessere infatti è usato nei trattamenti eudermici e per massaggi muscolari e rilassanti, mentre un bagno con essenza di pepe stimola la sudorazione e contribuisce alla depurazione dell’organismo. Anche in caso di contusioni il pepe può risultare un buon rimedio naturale per togliere il gonfiore e diminuire il dolore se somministrato con impacchi freddi.