Friday, November 9, 2007

The Original Pepper

The pepper that sits on your table next to your salt shaker was not the first to be loved by the Western world. As I discovered on various trips to Indonesia, there is another type of pepper that was the first to bear the name. In Sanskrit it is called pippali, and its fame was widespread before those little peppercorns we now know managed to steal all the thunder as well as the name.

The original version is now referred to as "long pepper" and is unfortunately hard to find in these parts. The photo above includes specimens I found in local markets on the Indonesian islands of Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali. Each little rod-like catkin is technically made of up many tiny fruits embedded in a flower spike. The taste is much warmer than common peppercorns, with a complex sweet overtone.

The only people I know marketing long pepper in this country are my American friends who founded Big Tree Farms, based in Bali. They wildcraft these peppers, which they describe on their website as having "an earthy pungency, a sweet hint of cardamom and nutmeg and the spicy heat of chili." Sounds about right. If you're curious, click on their link to find out if a store near you might carry their products. I believe you can also order it online. It will save you a very long flight.

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