2. April 2017 – 13:00
I am always very happy about a trip to the green state of Kerala, which is located at the southernmost tip of India. Here, in the so-called “land of coconuts” and christened by the Indians as “God’s own land”, one not only travels in a relaxed way, but there is also an incredible amount to experience, see and marvel at within a relatively small area. Be it wild elephants in the national parks, the canal system of the backwaters, white sandy beaches, Portuguese-influenced harbour cities or the tea and spice plantations in the western ghats.
Kerala’s spices always facinate me and although I have already taken part in numerous guided tours through spice plantations I learn more about them every time I visit Kerala again.
On our trip this year in March, we were in Kerala at the harvesting time and production of pepper. So I was able to get a comprehensive picture of the way of pepper from the fruit on the tree to the pepper mill in our local kitchens.
I am happy to take you on the journey of pepper in documented form:
The pepper, also known as “King of Spices” is a tropical plant and needs it very warm and humid, with a lot of rainfall. The climate in Kerala with its long monsoon season and very high temperatures of over 20°C all year round is perfet for the pepper. In fact, India is one of the world’s main areas of pepper cultivation. In India itself, pepper is largely consumed by the population itself, but is also exported worldwide.
The pepper is a tendril plant and needs slender, tall trees to support it, to meander around it. Nevertheless, it does not act as a parasite, but is an independent plant and can therefore also be grown in a mixed culture with coconuts, jackfruits and betel nuts.
1. The pepper harvest
In India, the pepper harvest takes place from November to March. Since the pepper is a tendril plant, it sometimes climbs up to three meters high. To get to the high pepper fruits, the men use bamboo ladders, while the women collect the lower fruits. The green pepper fruits can be used for fresh consumption. However, the majority goes into production for the black pepper.
If the pepper fruits ripe a little longer on the trees, the fruits turn red. The precious white pepper is then produced from it via a fermentation and drying process. In this article, however, we want to focus on the black pepper.
2. Drying the pepper
Once the green pepper has been collected, the fruits must first be separated from the stems. This step is done by the men twith the help of hooks and palm stalks.
Then the pepper is placed in the sun for two to three days to dry until it slowly loses its green color and turns black. In addition, the fruits naturally lose water and reduce their mass by 2/3 to 35 kg per 100 kg.
3. Preparing for export
Of course, as with almost every product, there are also differences in quality with pepper. This is particularly noticeable in the size of the peppercorns.
For this purpose, the pepper is separated from women with different sieves, so that the pepper can be packed later according to size. The large peppercorns are sent to Europe for export.
The smaller peppercorns remain for the domestic market in India.
By the way, the dried residue, a mixture of small seeds and plant stems, is used as a fertilizer.