Long Pepper: Black Pepper’s Predecessor In Europe

Long pepper is also known as Piper longum and was being used in India in 1000 BCE. It is believed to have originated in the subcontinent, much like Piper nigrum (black pepper). It showed up in Europe around 6 BCE and was readily adopted by Greek cooks. Long pepper’s distinctive bite was completely unknown in European cuisine at the time. One could say that it was the first of a long line of Far Eastern spices to dominate European cuisine. In India, the spice had certain health benefits ascribed to it that made it a popular spice in Ayurvedic medicine.

Later on, the spice would become popular with the Romans as well. Pliny the elder would write about its benefits. Long pepper became a fixture in Roman cuisine as their traders learned to navigate through monsoons to reach India. Both long pepper and black pepper were readily available to the Romans, but long pepper was three times more expensive due to its relative scarcity. The pepper would continue to be a much-desired spice and one of the core spices in the spice trade between Europe and the Far East. The pepper was so universally loved that it became an important part of both European and Chinese dishes.

In the 14th century, long pepper was listed among the basic spices of the French royal court’s chef. Other spices listed included grains of paradise, spikenard, and galangal. Around this time, long pepper was a popular ingredient in spiced wines. The most popular of these concoctions was called hippocras, a mixture of red or white wine sweetened with honey and flavored with an assortment of spices. A century later, long pepper’s popularity was fading. It was being replaced with Africa’s grains of paradise, as well as with a recent arrival from the New World–the chili pepper. Long peppers were harder to cultivate when compared to chili peppers, which could be grown in parts of Europe such as Spain and Hungary. In addition, chili peppers were more flavorful and colorful. Over the next two centuries, long pepper would all but vanish from European recipes.

After centuries out of the limelight, long pepper has recently become a favorite of western chefs once again.

Long pepper flavor profile

Long pepper’s flavor is very similar to that of black pepper. It is difficult to tell them apart when they are used in dishes with other competing flavors. When tasted by itself or in a dish where it is the main flavoring ingredient, long pepper is more mellow than black pepper and more complex as well. A key difference is that it is not as immediately hot as black pepper and lacks black pepper’s distinctive bitterness.

Health benefits of long pepper

The main beneficial compound in long pepper is piperine. Piperine is what gives long pepper its heat. It is also found in black pepper. Piperine is an alkaloid with a range of pharmacological benefits. Largely because of those benefits, long pepper can be used to treat:

  • Diabetes: Long pepper is useful for managing the rate at which glucose enters the blood. It also increases glucose production.
  • Foodborne illness: Long pepper has antimicrobial properties that make it useful for combating bacterial infections.
  • Digestive problems: Like black pepper, long pepper is beneficial for enhancing digestion.

Common uses

Long pepper can be used in any dish that requires black pepper. It is a great addition to coleslaw and dry rubs. It is included in many older recipes for pickles.

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