Long peppers, Piper longnum, are the fruits of an aromatic, perennial climbing plant native to India and South Asia and now found cultivated in Indonesia and Thailand.
It’s a spice which has largely been forgotten about, over shadowed by peppercorns, but that’s a huge shame for what is a hugely versatile and delightful spice. Think black pepper, with a sweetness akin to nugmeg and cinnamon.
Long pepper has a more complex flavour than black pepper, it’s more like a blend of flavours than one single spice; the peppers can be added to pepper grinders and used as a condiment when a more rounded, sweet spiciness is desired.
We suggest grinding it over vegetables prior to serving, adding it to soups, stews, marinades, rice, grains and curries…the possibilities really are endless. It can even be added to ice cream!
Use as you would black pepper in sweet recipes such as biscuits and cake; you can also use it to spice up fruit syrups, cordials, chutneys and pickles or fresh fruit.
A touch of history
In medieval Europe people were using long pepper to flavour their food, long before black pepper was available. During this time it was known as ‘longe peper’ and was an ingredient in a spiced wine drink that became popular in the 14th century known as ‘Hippocras’ which alongside long pepper contained cinnamon, ginger, spikenard, sweet galingale, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and grains of paradise.
The plant itself can grow up to 1 metre in height, with delicate heart shaped leaves. It’s the female cluster of flowers which provide the fruit – a cylindrical spike, consisting of numerous greenish-white flowers which form small ovoid berries, shiny blackish green, embedded in fleshy spikes, which dry to hard long fruits, dark brown in colour. They could almost be confused for the catkins of a Hazel Tree.
One to watch
Indian long pepper has also been noted for its use to improve appetite and digestion, as well as to treat stomach ache, heartburn, indigestion, intestinal gas, diarrhoea, and cholera. It is also used for lung problems including asthma, bronchitis, and cough.
There’s even talk that the spice could help with diabetes, liver ailments and weight loss…so this may well be a spice to watch out for in the future.
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