This pepper goes by many names, the variety that yields from India is known as Indian Long pepper. In the English language, it is called Long pepper and in Hindi Peepal or pipar.
Other popular names are Dried Catkins, Indonesian long pepper, and Javanese long pepper
The Khasi people of Meghalaya, call it Sohmrit Khlaw.
Indian Long pepper grows mostly in deciduous to evergreen forests of Northeast and South India.
In Meghalaya and Northeast India, Long Pepper is grown in the southern slopes of Meghalaya, in Ri-War, Mawsynram, Shella, Sohra (known as Cherrapunji) etc. where it is grown using natural means like all our other ingredients.
This spice is cultivated in Assam, West Bengal, Nepal and Uttar Pradesh too.
An aromatic climber, its stem is slender and jointed, with thickened nodes. The root is large and woody.
Leaves are about 2 to 3 inches long, dark, ovate (rounded-base and tapering-tip), and dentate (tooth-like edges), with broad, rounded lobes at the base.
The flowers are monoecious, i.e. having the male and female reproductive structures in separate flowers but on the same plant.
The fruits are ovoid (broad at the base, like an egg) and look like spikes, of about the length of a matchstick. Fruits are green when young, red when ripe and turn blackish-grey when dried. The fruit is what we use mostly.
The creeper flowers from May to September and the fruit is harvested in winter while still green and tender. After harvest, it is sun-dried thoroughly until it assumes the typical greyish black colour that you see in our jars.
Yes, this product is grounded fruits of the long pepper, but all parts of the plant are used – the Fruit, Root and Stem.
Grown in limestone soil, the saplings are planted at the beginning of the rainy season and take three to four years to start bearing fruit.
The yield triples within three years of the first harvest – from 560 kg per hectare in the first year to 1,680 kg per hectare in the third! After the third year, the vines become less productive and are replaced. (1 hectare = 10,000 sq. m or 2.47 acres).
Long pepper was once widely used in cooking, even in ancient Rome, to induce a pungent taste to various dishes.
There seems to be a renewed interest in this spice for its unique flavour and taste. The taste lingers in the tongue. While black pepper stings, long pepper soothes. The spikes of long pepper are grounded or broken into coarse pieces and added to soups, stews, roasts and curries. It imparts complex mix of flavours like the earthiness of nutmeg, sweet note of cardamom and cinnamon, the spiciness of chillies, the heat of black pepper and a slight tongue-numbing taste, somewhat like that of winged prickly ash.
It is bitter, spicy and warming taste is perhaps due to its volatile, fragrant oils and alkaloids like piplatine, sesenine and pipla-sterol.
In northeast India it is also used to spice up pickles and preserves, giving them a distinctive aroma and flavour.
By default, Long Pepper is grown naturally. Occasionally cow dung cake is used as fertilizer. In most cases, manure is not used at all. Farmers depend on the natural fertility of the soil, which is provided by decaying dead leaves inside the forest areas.
The spikes of Long Pepper are harvested in January, while they are still green, pungent and tender. The spikes are then dried well in the sun, till they turn grey in colour.
Farmers in the East Khasi Hills districts grow this spice in the forest, like a climber on tree trunks, thus eliminating the need to use a stake for support.
Piperlongumine is a bioactive agent found in Piper longum or Indian long pepper. The usage of Indian long pepper goes back to Ayurveda and Unani systems. Several research papers are available to vouch for its medicinal properties.
Indian Long pepper is known to be used in improving appetite and digestion, as well as treat stomachache, indigestion, intestinal gas, diarrhea, and cholera.
The root contains piperine, steroids, glucosides, pipelartine and piperlonguminine.
The unique chemical composition of this plant extends its utility beyond the culinary to curative.