A Peek into the Archive of “The Black Gold” Spice

“Piper nigrum”




commonly known as black pepper is a climber vine that belongs to the Piperaceae family. It is one of the earliest known spices which has its origin on the Malabar coast of India. Back Pepper is one of the most habitually used spices in the Indian subcontinent. It is available in seed and powdered form. It is primarily cultivated in the southern part of India and a few other tropical regions. It is a spice that is known worldwide.


Pepper was in use throughout India since the prehistoric era. It has been used in cooking since 2000 BC. Black pepper was known as black gold as it was one of the costly spices of the time. It was also used as a form of commercial money in the past. Thus the term “peppercorn rent'' was introduced which is considered a token of payment.


It was found that the southern part of Malabar that is present in Kerala was one of the major sources of black pepper in the early times. Muziris, the ancient harbor in Malabar, was the major exporter of pepper and other spices worldwide.


It was found that black pepper was used in the process of mummification in 1213 BC. Although there are still no shreds of evidence on how they were exported to Egypt. During the reign of the roman empire, the trade from the Indian coast to Europe. There were almost 120 ships that traveled to and from India that carried the spices to Europe. With this trade, black pepper became popular all around the world and also became a priceless condiment to the Roman aristocracy.


It is also believed that pepper was found in China in the 2nd century. They used works of certain writers which held references to the use of pepper.


As pepper was considered so valuable, people started using it as currency in post-classical Europe. Even though it was the roman empire who were the ones who started the trade, it was later spread to other countries with the fall of Rome. By the end of the middle ages, the Islamic states took control over the major spice trade.


Pepper was used to hiding the taste of rotten meat during the middle ages. As pepper was costly, it was only afforded by the elite. Pepper aided in preventing rotten meat from being noticed. This led people in the middle ages to use pepper as a preservative.


In 1498 the Portugal traveler Vasco da Gama came to India in search of Christians and spices. The Portuguese gained control over the spice trade on the Arabian sea. Their fleets were not strong enough to withstand the onslaught of piracy and other rivals. This led the old powers, i.e, the Arabs and the Venetians re-established trade again. They started trade through their old trade routes.


By the 17th century, the Portuguese had lost all their control over the trade with India, and that led to the fall of trade. The Dutch and British powers took their hold. By the mid-17th century, the Indian pepper trade ports held by the Portuguese were lost to the dutch.


Later when pepper became widely used in European countries, it started to lose its value. The cost decreased and it started to be affordable to the layman.


Present-day pepper is an unavoidable condiment in all households.


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