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A royal spice

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Peppercorns in black and white

The pepper-known as the ‘king of spices ‘ comes from the fruits of an evergreen, woodyplant, indigenous to the Malabar coast in Kerala. It grows well in certain parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal.

The vine has climbing branches bearing numerous rootsat the swollen nodes. The leaves are ovate with a sharp-pointed end. Minute white flowers are borne on slender, pendulous dense spikes 10-12 cms long. Each spike may bear about 10-40 single seeded spherical fruit 4-5 cms in diameter. The pepper vine thrives best in moist hot climate with distributed rainfall. Pruning is necessary at intervals so that the plant becomes shrubby. Harvesting is donein November and December .

Two types of pepper are recognised in the spice trade--black pepper and white pepper. For black pepper, the beans are plucked when they turn red and then dried in the sun. The pericarp wrinkles and turns black.

On the other hand, white pepper is produced from fully ripened red berries which are picked and soaked in water and then thrashed to remove the skin and dried in the sun till they turn white in colour.

CHITRA RADHAKRISHNAN

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