Malabar Pepper: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What are Malabar peppers?

Malabar pepper refers to one of the two types of peppercorns to come from the Malabar Coast of India. The other famous peppercorn is the Tellicherry peppercorn, which is the higher quality of the two. Tellicherry peppercorns are the best 10 percent of Malabar peppercorns.

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In India and the Middle East, black pepper — like other spices — was once viewed both as a seasoning for food and as a medicine. It was used in Ayurveda and other medical traditions. Black peppercorns primarily from the Malabar Coast were prescribed for a range of illnesses including heart disease, indigestion, and insomnia.

Peppercorns have been grown and used in India since before recorded history. They were probably first cultivated in the Malabar region, located in what is now Kerala.

Malabar pepper was a valuable spice in ancient times, when it was used to preserve meat and to hide the meat’s taste if it was spoiled. Peppercorns from India’s Malabar Coast were so valuable for much of Europe’s history that they were used as currency. During the late Middle Ages, peppercorns were worth their weight in gold — a pound of peppercorns held the same value as a pound of gold. All of Europe’s black pepper up until the 16th century came from the Malabar Coast via North Africa.

The word Malabar may have first been applied to India’s western coast somewhere around 1000 AD. By the time it got the name, the region had long been associated with the trade in black pepper. When the Portuguese arrived in India in the late 15th century, the name Malabar was widely used.

Despite being cultivated throughout Asia including in Borneo and Sumatra, black pepper grows most abundantly in the Malabar Province and is one of the region’s main exports.

Malabar pepper flavor profile

Malabar pepper is known for its spicy heat that comes from a compound called piperine. Along with the heat, Malabar pepper also has a complex blend of flavor notes from various terpenes like limonene and pinene. You may be able to detect citrus, floral, and woody notes from freshly ground peppercorns. You won’t get many of the same notes from white pepper, which has been stripped of its outer layer. The outer black layer is where the flavor-producing compounds are.

Malabar pepper must be used shortly after being ground, as pre-ground pepper quickly loses the aromatic compounds responsible for flavor and fragrance. If you do decide to pre-grind your Malabar pepper, store it in an airtight container to maximize flavor intensity.

Health benefits

Fresh Malabar pepper is known to be beneficial to health because it contains compounds like:

  • Piperine: The source of Malabar pepper’s heat, piperine also acts as an antioxidant.
  • Minerals: Black peppercorns are a good source of essential minerals, including calcium and iron.

Using Malabar pepper can help with the prevention and treatment of:

  • Inflammation: The antioxidant properties of piperine and other chemicals in Malabar pepper help relieve inflammation.
  • Heart disease: The anti-inflammatory effects of Malabar pepper may help to lower your heart disease risk.

Common uses

As a kind of black pepper, Malabar pepper is a truly universal spice when it comes to savory foods. It works in cuisines from virtually every part of the world, including food cultures that are otherwise averse to spice. Malabar pepper is perfect for highly spiced Indian dishes, where it holds its own against other pungent ingredients. You can also use Malabar pepper fresh as a premium seasoning for expensive steaks, or grind it over a salad.