Planter's Diary


July 31st, 2013 by Ganesh H. R.

The Story of Pepper

Pepper from Malabar has always been very important in world history. We can surely say that it has changed world history.
Over 2000 years ago, in the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire was one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Romans loved pepper and bought pepper from here, in Southern India. They paid for it in gold, which is why pepper was also called Black Gold.  Many Romans complained that most of their money was being spent on Indian pepper! A rich Roman would show off by keeping Malabar pepper on his dinner table.

Rome was defeated in the year 410AD by warriors from Northern Europe, called the Visigoths. They demanded a huge sum of money, or ransom, to return the city of Rome to the Romans – this ransom was 3000 pounds of pepper!


It’s Pepper! Picture courtesy: Jose Ramapuram

In 1492, Christopher Columbus went searching for pepper and India. He sailed West from Spain, and instead of finding India, he found America. He thought he had found India! The locals ate a spicy capsicum – he thought it was Indian pepper as it tasted spicy like pepper. So he called it pepper. That is why capsicum is called pepper in America! To this day, people are confused about the word pepper –a red hot chilli pepper is actually a capsicum, and a red-hot black pepper is what grows on this vine.

Six years after Christopher Columbus found America, Vasco Da Gama, from Portugal, also went looking for India and succeeded. He came the right way – around Africa! He reached Calicut in 1498, just 180 km away from here. He took back lots of pepper, and the Portuguese soon controlled the pepper trade. Many wars were fought over the control of pepper trading and the Dutch got control of Cochin. The world’s most powerful naval empires were built because they controlled the trade of pepper.  Today, the world’s Pepper Exchange is located at Cochin.

The pepper from Coorg was taken to the port at Tellicherry 80 km away. Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold (TGEB) Pepper is still considered the world’s most superior pepper. Over 20% of the world’s spice trade is in pepper. Malabar pepper is a very valuable pepper.

Have you noticed that the pepper grows on a tall tree?  It is a vine, and this is the Silver Oak Tree.
Do you know why we have pepper on a coffee plantation?

Pepper in Coorg

The Flowering Vine! Picture courtesy: Jose Ramapuram

Well, coffee needs shade. And these silver oak trees provide shade. And pepper is a vine that grows in this climate, so we grow them on silver oak trees. It is a 3-in-1 solution – coffee, silver oak, and pepper. The silver oak provides good timber too. This combination is found only in South India – shade-grown coffee is an Indian speciality. Coffee in other countries, like Brazil, does not grow in the shade.

So next time a foreigner asks you – what is special about Indian coffee – tell them is it the only ‘shade grown’ coffee in the world.

The Story of Pepper
Ganesh H. R.
How often do you encounter someone who has a live birdsong for a mobile ring tone? How much rarer to meet someone who can imitate bird calls and insect sounds so convincingly that you are hard pressed to tell the difference between original and copy? Meet Ganesh, our resident Naturalist. Let him take you on a tour of our plantation animatedly explaining the hallmarks of Arabica and Robusta coffees, the subtle dynamics of pepper harvesting, the traces left by foraging wild elephants and boars, while, in between, calling out to a swallow in his own brand of bird language. "Enchantment unlimited", is how we would be prone to put it!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 4:24 PM and is filed under Destination, Farming, Flora, Nature, Plantation, Spice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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