Sunday, July 26, 2020

History of black pepper

Black pepper is one of the oldest spices used by man. It has been traded since 1500 BC.

When Alexander conquered Egypt in 332 BC, he created the major trading center for spices coming from the Orient and bound for Europe: Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt - and it was here that western spice traders met with African and Asian spice merchants. Exotic spices such as cinnamon, cassia, black pepper, ginger and many others traded hands from Arabs to Greeks over the centuries at this Mediterranean port city - spices coming by caravan from India, China and Southeast Asia.

The earliest travelers from Europe who visited India described pepper cultivation on the Malabar coast. Theophrastus, the Greek philosopher (372-287 BC) mentions two kinds of pepper in the fourth century B.C., (most likely these were black pepper and long pepper), both of which were used by the Greeks and the Romans. It was one of the first commercial trade products between the East and Europe.

Pliny, in some early written reports, mentioned even about the price of pepper at that time. According to him, the price of long pepper was 15 Dinaries, white pepper 7 Dinaries, and black pepper 4 Dinaries per pound. During his time, Rome developed an active spice trade with Saudi Arabia and India.

During Pliny’s time Rome developed an active spice trade with South Arabia and Somaliland and, by direct route, with India. In the Roman Empire the consumption of spices as food condiments soared.

Discorides in the first century A.D. mentions black pepper and long pepper as well as white pepper, which is simply black pepper seed with its peel or pericarp removed. Black pepper and long pepper were among the spices from India on which the Romans levied import duty at Alexandria, around A.D. 176.

Pepper is mentioned by Roman writers in the fifth century A.D. It is said that Attila the Hun demanded, among other items, 3,000 lbs. of pepper as ransom for the city of Rome.

Centuries later, the high cost of pepper led the Portuguese to seek their own sea passage to India. The Portuguese were successful in this mission and monopolized the spice trade until the 18th century. Round or black pepper began to compete with long pepper in Europe beginning in the 12th century and had replaced it by the 14th century.

The British founded their East India Company in A. D, 1600. Two years later the United East India Company of the Dutch was formed. Their entry in this field increased rivalry in spice trade. Between A.D. 1605 and 1621, the Dutch managed to drive the Portuguese out of the Spices Island achieving a monopoly in spices trading.

In January 1793, an agreement was made between the Rajah of Travancore and the Crown of England. The Rajah was to supply large quantities of pepper to the Bombay Government in return for arms, ammunition and European goods. This is known historically as the “Pepper Contract”.

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the struggle for control of the Far Eastern spice producing regions became so intense that wars were fought between Portugal, Holland, and England. By the end of the 18th century, the United States entered the world trade for spices, bartering its salmon, flour, and soap for tea, coffee and spices.
History of black pepper