Everything about black, white and red pepper

To be able to judge whether a pepper is good, you need 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 with the species name 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 high-quality black pepper, you will see that some 'grains' show a reddish-brown to red glow, indicating that they also contain ripe berries.

The 'black colouration' of the berries is, just like with tea, partly the result of enzymatic oxidation, also known as enzymatic brown colouration. We know this from the brown coloring of bananas, avocados and apples.But the development of the color and flavor of black pepper is more complex than that. You will get the best result if 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 from the predominantly unripe berries from large-scale cultivation. There is no room for red pepper here, because the berries on a bunch do not ripen evenly. The unripe the berries, the more secure the harvest, because the longer you let the berries ripen on the plant - they do not ripen - the greater the risk that you will lose your harvest because berries start to rot. In premium peppers, such as black Penja - up to 70% of the berries on the picked bunches 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 for to make 'red' pepper. Delicious !

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

For good white pepper, ripe berries are traditionally used. Large-scale white pepper is now also made from dry, unripe berries, where the berries are peeled by machine. The skins are then processed into pepper oil or added to a lower quality pepper to create 'fortified pepper'.

To produce white pepper cheaply and on a large scale, the process is accelerated - especially in Vietnam - by using enzymes that have the property of breaking down the cell wall.The most commonly used, most effective enzyme is pectinase. The complete enzymatic breakdown of the peel by pectinase of the green, fresh pepper berry takes 24 hours and of the dried pepper (black pepper) 40-45 hours. The pepper treated in this way results in a grayish pepper, which is bleached with a peroxide for a more aesthetic result.

In agriculture, the scale on which a crop is grown is considered an important factor for consistent quality and a market-based price, partly due to the ability to apply modern agricultural and processing techniques. These techniques are only available for small-scale agriculture 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. Now more than ever, these farmers need our support.

Training is essential for the maintenance of small-scale agriculture, also affordable technical tools. The corporate form offers small farmers the best chance to remain independent. The corporation can be used to professionalize sales, set up educational projects, and last but not least, benefit the entire community. The lack of a good organizational structure is a major reason why agriculture in many developing countries is less productive and remunerative than elsewhere.

The pepper market has been in turmoil in recent decades due to the enormous expansion of pepper acreage in Vietnam and Brazil, the latter of which has quickly become one of the main suppliers. Market prices plummeted, with prices of smaller grains intended for ground pepper and pepper oil in particular being dramatically low. Many farmers in that segment therefore perished. New plantations focus on the production of larger berries and organic pepper.

In various regions we see, to our great sadness, how large players are building on the success of small farmers, such as in Kampot (especially due to the emergence of large organic farms), the Cameroonian Penja (emergence of a parallel market) and the Malaysian Sarawak. Regarding the latter, the Malaysian government is encouraging the expansion of pepper cultivation, which is mainly driven by larger companies. Money-driven.

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

By purchasing 'made to measure', we guarantee you fresh products. Our pepper smells pleasant and is optimally sharp. To maintain that quality, we advise you to store the pepper in a closed jar, can or bag, ideally in a very cool place. This applies to all spices by the way.

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, but 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 virtually odorless and hardly sharp isochavicine.


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