Pepper: black, green or white.

Many people think they are from different plants, but it is only the way of handling the ripe or unripe fruits from the pepper vine.

Some botanical information

Scientific name: Piper nigrum family: Piperaceae
Thai name พริกไทย (phrik thai) English name:black pepper vine All plants in the family have simple alternate leaves, with oil glands containing a pungent aromatic oil.
The genus Piper is present in the real tropics world wide and counts about 1200 different species. Thailand has about 40 species. Many species are climbing plants.
The origin of Piper nigrum, the black pepper, is India, but now cultivated all over the tropics. India alone has more than 75 different cultivars of pepper. It is a climbing plant with very small flowers in a spike. The berries turn red when ripe.

The pepper fruits

img/plants/piperaceae/peppercorns.jpg img/plants/piperaceae/piper_nigrum_1.jpg
flowers hardly visible
will turn black on drying
white peppers are the seeds of the ripe red berries
green,black, white and ripe young green pepper green pepper mix of green and red

The green fruits are collected just before turning red. This is the green pepper, used fresh or conserved in cans.
During drying, the fruits turn black and they get their wrinkled appearance, the black pepper.
When the berries are ripe, the collected spikes are lightly crushed, put in bags of jute and floated with water. In 7-10 days the flesh will be disintegrated. Seeds are cleaned and dried in the sun and turn "white", the white pepper. The white pepper is the ripe seed.

The aromatic part of the pepper is the volatile oil with at least 26 different compounds, present in all parts of the fruit.
The sharp taste is due to the nitrogen compounds (alkaloids) like piperine.

Difference between black and white pepper

Black pepper has a volatile oil content between 1% and nearly 2%. Because the loss of the outer part of the berry white pepper has half of the this amount.
The piperine content for black pepper is from about 5% up to more than 7.5 %, in white pepper the content is about 6%.
Black pepper is more fragrant than white pepper, white pepper is relatively more pungent then black pepper.

If not properly packed, especially grained pepper, the volatile oil will be lost or dissolve in the packing material. To conserve the volatile oil in (black) pepper it is better to grain the pepper just before use.

Note: Sometimes seemingly red "peppers" are present in a mix of black and white pepper. This is the spicy fruit of Schinus terebinthifolius the Brazil pepper or S. molle the Peruvian pepper. These trees are from South America and belong to a different family Anacardiaceae, the family of cashew nut and mango.

The effects of pepper

The piperine and the volatile oil in pepper have a stimulating effect on nerves and the digestive system.
Generally spices are the natural products preventing or reducing the grow of bacteria and molds in food.

Piperine is toxic for insects, and is a useful insect killer. Pepper is a very useful medicinal plant used in for example the treatment of digestion problems, scabies, colic, rheumatism, headache, diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, menstrual pains etc.

Other plants pepper species in the garden

In the garden you can see more pepper species. All species are used for digestion problems of all kind.

betle leaves are chewed together with betel nuts, a palm seed
ripe fruit
the green fruits are used
mostly used as medicinal herb
as ground cover
Piper betle P. retrofractum P. retrofractum P. sarmentosum P. aurantiacum P. aurantiacum

more information

Information on PROSEA

An important source of information is PROSEA, a collection of 24 books in 19 volumes with information on South East Asian plants. See PROSEA.

Most in formation is found PROSEA vol 13:Spices and Vol 12(1) Medicinal plants.

web site for spices

The best site for spices is certainly the web site by Gernot Katzer in Austria. Here you can find the names of spices in many languages, and information on the use of spices and even recipes for cooking.
This is the link to his English index of spice names.

The next three links are to his website: Piper nigrum , Piper retrofractum and Schinus terebinthifolius

A very elaborate website on black pepper processing and use is this site: This company makes oleoresins from pepper and other spices.

A Hawaii article on the use of pepper in Thailand: Ethnobotanyof the genus Piper (Piperaceae) in Thailand