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Everything You Need To Know About White Pepper

What Is White Pepper?

White pepper, like black pepper, is a spice produced from the dried fruit of Piper nigrum vines (the pepper plant).

Despite similar origins, black pepper and white pepper are very different in their flavor, primarily because of the differences in their processing and handling. Both peppers come from the berries of the same plant, but in the case of black pepper, pepper berries are picked and then dried. White pepper, on the other hand, is picked and typically soaked in stagnant or moving water in order to deskin the berries and then washed and dried, which gives it a distinct aroma and flavor profile.

What Is White Pepper Called In Other Languages?

The pharmaceutical name for White Pepper is Fructus Piperis albi. In Chinese, Bai hu jiao or Hu jiao mian (ground white pepper). The French refer to it as Poivre blanc, whereas Germans refer to it as Weißer Pfeffer. In Hindi, white pepper is called saphed mirch, and in Malayalam Veluttha kurumulagu or Vella kurumulagu. Veḷḷai miḷaku in Tamil, Tella Miriyalu in Telugu, Safed Mari in Gujarati, Hồ tiêu in Vietnamese, Shiro koshō in Japanese and Poivre blanc in French.

What Are The Common Uses Of White Pepper?

There are a few different uses for white pepper around the world. The spice has a distinct flavor and aroma that enhances many dishes and scents alike. It is regularly used in Asian countries as a seasoning for soups, marinades, and stir-fries (often as a replacement to black pepper). This is simply because Asian cuisines are home to dishes that are peppery, but without the black flecks that black pepper brings to the table. Also, white pepper, despite its familiar hot taste, has a milder flavor compared to black pepper.

As an aromatic spice, white pepper oil serves as a base for perfumes. It is even an integral part of some aromatherapy treatments, its characteristic soothing scent. This oil, in fact, is popular throughout the world because of its plethora of health benefits – it can alleviate pain and inflammation, improve breathing difficulties and reduce digestive discomfort. As part of its soothing properties, white pepper oil even offers relief for cough and cold when 2-3 drops of the oil are placed on the palm and inhaled over time. Much like Vaporub, a few drops of this oil can be rubbed on your nose, forehead, and chest for immediate relief!

People around the world are known to take white pepper in whole to alleviate conditions like upset stomachs, cholera, and malaria. Research indicates white pepper has a chemical called piperine, which may improve brain function, too – however, as of yet, it is not entirely clear how. Research indicates white pepper can also lower high blood pressure, improve heart health, maintain good cholesterol and even prevent certain types of cancers, especially prostate cancer.

How Is White Pepper Traditionally Produced?

The cultivation of pepper is usually carried out in soil that is neither very dry nor very damp, even though moisture is essential to its growth. This is simply because the roots of the plant are prone to rotting if not grown in well-drained soil.

The traditional process of producing white pepper involves first soaking pepper berries in stagnant or slow-moving water for 2 to 3 weeks causing the outer skin to decay and loosen from the core fruit. This core is then extracted, washed and sun-dried for 2-3 days. After sun drying, the white and black pepper cores are manually separated. This process, called the traditional retting method, is time-consuming, labor-intensive and even carries a substantial risk of microbial contamination when the pepper berries are left to soak in stagnant water. Therefore, there has been a huge need for an alternative method in the market. While steaming and mechanical decortication is other methods considered fairly process-effective, aroma and flavor are compromised. Hence, the reasonable alternative of using microbial methods for the production of white pepper has been recently advocated in the literature, Thankamani & Giridhar, 2004.

An Alternative Method – The VT process

In Thankamani et al’s paper, the method involving the use of bacterial isolates for the fermentative production of pepper has been investigated. This process involves –

1. Sourcing high-quality garbled black pepper,
2. Inoculating the medium containing black pepper cores with cultivated bacterial strains in specialized containers,
3. Incubating the containers until the outer pericarp loosens and falls off
4. Collecting, washing (several times) and sun-drying the white pepper cores.

After the production process has been completed, the pepper is analyzed for moisture content and other relevant parameters – this method is definitely more efficient and yields a higher quality white pepper than the traditional retting process of producing white pepper!

White Pepper Produced Via The VT Process Is Better Than The Traditional Product

In essence, not only does the microbial process require less time and labor, but it is also environmentally friendly. The slurry by-product it produces can be used as an organic bio-fertilizer. Another major plus point of the fermentative process is its retention in the white pepper spice of active health-friendly ingredients like oleoresins and volatile oils.

Most importantly, this process works very effectively for farmers, who otherwise incur huge losses on berry count when birds feed on ripe berries (only completely ripened berries can be used in the traditional process) off trees before the farmers can get around to plucking them, through traditional methods. When following the microbial process, the berries don’t need to be plucked – they can be sourced from the local market in uniform grade and size.

At Thottam Farm Fresh, we produce white pepper using the VT Process as opposed to the traditional retting process used for the production of white pepper in other parts of India.

Which Are The Major White Pepper Producing Areas Around The World?

In India, pepper has a key role in India’s exports. Cultivation mostly takes place in the southern regions of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. At the international level, Indonesia is one of the world’s major exporters of white pepper – the variant they produce is called Muntok white pepper. Malaysia, another important name in the pepper market, produces the Sawawak white pepper variety – the flavor is intense but is considered less distinctive than the Muntok variety. Vietnam and Brazil are also known to be producers and exporters of their own kind of white pepper, which is typically much milder.

What Is The Standard Used To Measure The Quality Of White Pepper?

White Pepper is important in trade, and a significant commodity of export to developed countries like USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the European countries. These countries give top priority to the health of their citizens and thus have their own stringent food laws and regulations. It is imperative that the product (white pepper in this case) conforms to the quality standards demanded by the importing country. Any food material that is spoiled or infected/contaminated by micro-organisms is either destroyed by the import inspection authorities or sent back to the exporting country. Of course, this leads to massive waste and losses for the exporting country, but also to damage in reputation. Hence, all exporting countries must follow the standards and guidelines set in place by organizations like the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA), European Spice Association (ESA), All Nippon Spice Association (ANSA) and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) to measure the quality of white pepper.

Established in 2000, the International Organization of Spice Trade Associations (IOSTA), representing the interests of the international spice trade. The American Spice Trade Association, the Canadian Spice Association, the European Spice Association, the All India Spice Exporters Forum, and the All Nippon Spice Association are all its members. IOSTA, on its own, has not addressed the issue of quality standards as an organization. However, some member associations have developed standards and specifications –

The American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) has stipulated important cleanliness specifications and guidelines in its 1969 ASTA Cleanliness Specifications, which covers macroscopic extraneous matter and macroscopic filth – these guidelines are similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Defect Action Levels. The ASTA’s rules factor in the number of dead insects, the number of mammalian excreta, other excreta found in the analyzed sample, the percentage of sample carrying mold and/or insect infestation and the extent of foreign matter that may be present in a given sample at any given time. ASTA has also published an ASTA Analytical Methods Manual which provides testing methods for many quality parameters of spices such as volatile oil and total ash, as well as a Check Sample Program for laboratories worldwide to conduct tests to ensure consistency in the use of methods. If the ASTA Cleanliness Specifications are not met, the entry of pepper can be banned in the US, and reconditioning of the pepper can be demanded. If the removal of defects is not possible by reconditioning, the pepper might be destroyed or sent back to the country of its origin!

Published in 2011, the Quality Minima Document of the European Spice Association (ESA) stipulates legal and non-legal requirements that must be followed for a successful export – it also covers an analysis of the chemical and physical parameters for testing. This document asserts the imported spice should be free from living and/or dead insects, insect fragments and rodent contamination visible to the naked eye, as well as off odor or off-flavor. Plus, the packaging should not be a source of contamination or migration, either.

The All Nippon Spice Trade Association (ANSA) comprises of leading Japanese spice, flavor, fragrance and seasoning companies – it provides information on food safety issues to consumers and relevant governmental bureaus in so realistic and adequate food safety regulations can be established for spices. The ANSA provides information on the levels of permissible chemical residue in the imported spices, facilitates detection of residual pesticides, additives, and contaminated substances and ensures that the percentage composition is within the regulated amount.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) is the leading national organization representing Australia’s food, drink, and grocery manufacturing industry –companies, subsidiaries, and associates are a part of it, and they contribute to 80 percent of the gross dollar value of processed foods, beverages, and grocery products sectors. As part of its offering in the quality control of imported spices, the AFGC acknowledges the high importance of quarantine and food safety measures for global agri-food trade flows. It maintains control over quarantine and health protocols, compositional standards and inspection processes so quality control is ensured.

At Thottam Farm Fresh, we can produce white pepper that meets (in most cases exceeds) the specifications set forward by ASTA and other agencies that set guidelines for the quality of food products.

If you’re fascinated by all-white pepper has to offer, don’t forget to order some right here for flavorful, healthy cooking!

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Thottam Farm Fresh Pvt. Ltd.
1/422A, Thuravoor P.O., Vathakkad
Angamaly, 683 572
Kerala, India
Ph: +91 9746712728
E: care@thottamfarmfresh.com