All about black, white and red pepper

To be able to judge whether a pepper is good, you have to know what to look for. Of course on the freshness, but also on the grain size, the degree of drying, and last-but-not-least the aroma.

But what is pepper? Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit of a plant known as Piper nigrum. Although the species name suggests otherwise, the fruits themselves are not black at all, but green, still unripe, coloring via orange to red, the ripe fruit. If you look closely at a good quality black pepper, you will see that some 'grains' show a reddish-brown to red glow, indicating that ripe berries have also been incorporated.

The 'blackening' of the berries is, as with tea, partly the result of enzymatic oxidation, also known as enzymatic browning. We know this from the browning of bananas, avocados and apples. But the development of black pepper's color and flavor is more complex than that. You get the best result when you blanch the picked berries briefly and mildly and then dry the berries in a controlled manner (for example mechanically).

The pepper market is dominated by black pepper, the pepper of the predominantly unripe berries from large-scale cultivation. There is no room for red pepper here, because the berries on a truss do not ripen evenly. The more unripe the berries, the more certain the harvest, because the longer you let the berries ripen on the plant - they do not ripen - the greater the risk of losing your harvest because the berries start to rot. With premium peppers, such as black Penja - up to 70% of the berries on the picked trusses are orange to red, i.e. semi-ripe or ripe, and in some regions, such as Kampot and Phu Quoc, the ripe berries are manually selected to to make 'red' pepper. Delicious !

To produce white pepper, the berries must be stripped of their skins. In the artisanal white pepper, the skins of the berries are soaked in water, in running water (a stream) or in barrels. This process is called 'retting'. Depending on the technique used, fermentation takes place or not during the retting. After the sheets have come loose, they are rubbed off the core and removed.

For a good white pepper, ripe berries are traditionally used. Large-scale produced white pepper is nowadays also made from the dry unripe berries, where the berries are peeled by machine. The peels are then processed into pepper oil or added to a lower quality pepper to form 'fortified pepper' or 'fortified pepper'. This raw white pepper appears to be of the same quality, but the aroma is less complex.

In agriculture, the scale at which a crop is grown is considered an important factor for consistent quality and a price in line with the market, partly due to being able to apply modern agricultural and processing techniques. For small-scale agriculture, these techniques are only achievable if there is a high degree of organization. Logically, small-scale cultivation is very sensitive to changing circumstances, such as climate change. Extended periods of drought, lack of water (lack of rain, dried up aquifers, lakes and springs), unpredictable heavy rainfall, floods and storms. More than ever, these farmers need technical help.

In addition, in order to maintain small-scale agriculture, the organizational structure will have to be improved, for example by setting up corporations and by professionalizing sales. The lack of it is an important reason why agriculture in many developing countries is less productive and rewarding than elsewhere. It is not appropriate for farmers to be robbed of their land, made 'serfs', but the main thing for us is that farmers must be able to maintain their independence.

In various regions we see with great sadness how larger companies are building on the success of small farmers, such as in Kampot (the emergence of large organic farms), the Cameroonian Penja (the emergence of a parallel market) and the Malaysian Sarawak With regard to the latter, the Malaysian government is stimulating the expansion of pepper cultivation from 14,000 hectares now, mainly made up of small companies, to 20,000 hectares in 2020. A growth that is mainly due to larger companies. Money-driven.

We try to deliver distinctive products from smaller companies, often corporations of small family businesses. We see this as a priority for the conservation of biodiversity, the continued existence of small, independent farms, a good income position for the families involved and the local communities, with all the additional benefits.

By Moreover, by purchasing 'tailor-made', we guarantee fresh products. Our pepper has a pleasant smell and is optimally sharp. To maintain that quality, we advise you to store the pepper in a sealed jar, can or bag, best in a very cool place. That goes for all spices, by the way. Did you know that the rough inside of many (soft) wooden pepper mills absorbs the aromas? What a shame !

How do you know if your pepper is good?

By smelling and tasting it. A good pepper smells good, tastes good, and is nice and sharp. An old pepper is not only less aromatic, it is also less sharp, because the piperine - the sharp substance in pepper - has been converted over time and certainly under the influence of light (UV) into the almost odorless and hardly sharp isochavicin.

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