Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Food Facts: Black Pepper

Black pepper is considered the world’s oldest spice and has been traded for centuries, used as currency, and probably was responsible for a few fights here and then.

Numerous health benefits have been attributed to black pepper, such as digestive aids and it being a carminative, which makes you fart. I’m not sure any of these have been clinically validated. What has been validated is that it is carcinogenic, as it contains small amounts of safrole, but you’d probably wind up dying from overconsumption of too much pepper rather than any cancer from it. Safrole is also an active ingredient in MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamin), commonly known as ecstasy.

Some evidence points to black pepper being used to mask the taste of spoiled meat.

“Pepper" derives from the Sanskrit pippali, which refers to the pepper plant Piper longum. Ironically, P. longum does not produce black pepper corns used for eating.

Black pepper corns are the berries from the plant Piper nigrum. The corns are picked and dried in a manner similar to coffee and predominantly come from South Asian countries. White pepper corns are the same as black ones except their outer sheath has been removed. The taste difference is that white corns tend to be a little milder. Pink pepper corns come from a completely different species unrelated to P. nigrum plants (Schinus molle). In the wild vines from P. nigrum can grow to nearly 30 feet but those for commercial production only reach 15.

The P. nigrum plant only bears fruit for about 3 years, typically starting on the 4th year of growth through the 7th.

28.3 grams (1 ounce) of black pepper has 72 calories, 18 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fat, 3.1 grams of protein, and 7.5 grams of fiber. Ounce per ounce, black pepper is more caloric than red meat, which is around 60 calories per ounce.

Chavicine, not piperine, is the active taste ingredient in pepper. When chavicine degrades it turns into piperine. This degradation is caused by…grinding. The I-got-a-C-in-organic-chemistry-here’s-why name for piperine is 1-[5-(1,3-benzodioxol-5-yl)-1-oxo-2,4-pentadienyl] piperidine.

Tellicherry is a popular pepper from the southwest coast of India. The pepper garners its name from the municipality of Thalassery, population 100,000. The British built a huge fort in Thalassery in 1708 to protect their interests in pepper and cardamom trading. It still stands today and is protected by the Indian Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act as a historic monument. The fort is also smack-dab in the middle of town which makes protecting it from tourists and developers more challenging than invading ships.

The mummy of Ramesses II (1304-1237 BC) had his nostrils stuffed with black pepper corns. Yes, folks, it was that prized back then considering they chose to use pepper rather than gold.

The sneezing effect from getting black pepper in your nose is due more to the shape of the pepper particle irritating the inner nose lining rather than the presence of piperine.

The “heat” of pepper comes from piperine binding to the cellular nociceptor TRPV1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, subfamily V, member 1), which responds to pain associated acidic conditions and temperatures exceeding 108 F (42 C). The chemical pathway for black pepper heat perception is similar to that of capsaicin, which is the “heat” from Jalapeno’s and other spicy vegetable-based peppers. The gene for encoding for the TRPV1 receptor is also over expressed in cells lining vestibule of the vulva, which triggers the burning feeling associated with, well…this is a food article….

20% of the worlds spice trade is in black pepper. The US is 100% dependent on foreign black pepper, importing nearly 52,000 metric tons annually. India is the largest exporter to the US, followed by Brazil and then Vietnam. New York, Rotterdam, and Singapore are major international centers for pepper trading. The US cannot become black pepper independent but with a little more global warming…perhaps.

Most “black pepper sprays” actually contain no black pepper since it’s not that irritating.

No comments:

Post a Comment