Pepper is one of the oldest spices known and has been called both the ‘king of spices’ and the ‘pearl of spices’. It was so valuable at one point in history, that it was even used as currency. The pepper plant (piper nigrum) originated in India and production has now expanded to Vietnam, Ceylon, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.
The Difference Between Types of Peppercorn
- White, black and green peppercorns come from the same plant. The peppercorn comes from the berry of the plant which is picked and dried. The unripe berries of the plant are used to make black pepper whereas white pepper comes from ripened berries which have been dried and had their outer skin removed. Green peppercorns are the unripe berry, which are pickled before drying to retain the green colour of the berries.
- Pink peppercorns come from the Brazilian pepper tree so are not related to the other types of pepper at all.
Pepper has long been used in ancient Indian medicine to treat various conditions such as gastric ailments and asthma. However, scientific research is lacking. Pepper is best known to reduce the secretion of acid in the stomach and therefore is thought to help with indigestion. Furthermore, pepper has proven antioxidant properties and may enhance the absorption of other phytochemicals in other spices. Animal studies have shown that it can prevent heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and cancer, but human studies have not been completed as yet. Also, pepper has antimicrobial effects and can be used as a preservative and a non-toxic deterrent for insects and rodents.
In cooking, pepper is versatile. When added near the end of the cooking process pepper will enhance most dishes. It is delicious used as a crust on meat and chicken and pairs wonderfully with lemon juice on fish, chicken and vegetables. Freshly ground black pepper on strawberries or watermelon adds a modern touch.
Piperine is the active ingredient in pepper and is responsible for the pungent properties we associate with it. Piperine becomes less active once the peppercorn is ground so best to grind your peppercorns freshly.
This recipe makes delicious chicken breasts without all the added preservatives, salts and sugars found in shop bought sauce. The chicken can be sliced and served with salad as a light meal or main meal and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.
Homemade lemon pepper chicken
2 skinless chicken breasts
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (even better if ground with a pestle and mortar)
½ cup chopped fresh coriander
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
Season with salt
2 tsp olive oil
Lemon wedges for serving
- Pre-heat oven to 180C. Place coriander, zest of half the lemon and juice of the whole lemon, garlic, ginger, salt and olive oil in a bowl and mix together. Butterfly the chicken breasts and cover with the lemon pepper mixture. Leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
- Place the chicken breasts in a greased oven proof dish, cover and bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve with fresh lemon wedges and fresh coriander.
Ring the changes: Use this sauce as a marinade for other meat and fish and try it as a dressing for steamed green vegetables.