Colour me yellow & black!

Pepper and Turmeric

Let us end the year and start the next year with my favourite spices turmeric and pepper (a “Turmeric and Black Pepper Recipe”?)

Like in any South Indian home turmeric powder went into every dish that was cooked and as I began cooking I followed suit. Also I found myself reaching for black pepper more often than not. I distinctly remember my mother sharing the tip that adding pepper to thorans (making dry vegetables garnished with grated coconut , green chillies and cumin the kerala way) is a great flavour enhancer ( even though amma seems to have forgotten it). Particularly so for cabbage thoran, which she felt had no distinct flavour of its own. I followed the advice diligently and added ground pepper to thorans, aviyal, erisherri and also my sauteed vegetables, soups; so also turmeric powder into most of them. The Kerala special Molagu oshyam made with dal and vegetables used only pepper and no chillies and of course the ever present turmeric powder – resulting in a “Turmeric and Black Pepper Recipe”.

. The image below is of thoran made with raw papaya ( a very flavourful one ) turmeric and pepper evidently present!

Papaya Thoran - Turmeric and Black Pepper Recipe
Papaya thoran made with unripened papaya


Pepper- Black Gold

Being from Kerala, pepper is a familiar spice and I love the zing of it. It is a major source of income for many farmers in kerala. Despite pepper being grown in many countries, traders swear by Indian pepper grown in the Malabar region. My grandparents’ homestead had pepper vines around the mango trees providing enough for the family. Now I get pepper from farmer friends growing pepper organically in the Western Ghats- Wayanad & Sholayur. They say it is a difficult plant, prone to diseases, therefore growing it organically takes effort and skill. Many insecticides and fungicides are used on pepper plant to ensure a disease –free plant in non-organic pepper growing.

Growing Pepper

My friend who grows organic pepper explained, “We harvest the pepper corns when some fruits start changing colour, as leaving the fruits to ripen on the vine will leave us with no harvest. The pepper corns are separated from the stalks either by threshing or using a small machine that is now available with large growers. Then the pepper corns are dried in the sun for a few days. When we process large quantities we put the pepper corns in boiling water and then dry it. When a handful of pepper corns shaken in your closed fist gives a tinny sound, then we know the corns are ready for storage.” The peppercorns are periodically taken out and dried in the sun and then put back in airtight containers.

Yellow = Turmeric

Turmeric is a familiar ally in every Indian household, at home it was part of amma’s home remedies. All of us are familiar with its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant effects. Along with cold pressed coconut oil it was used to deal with insect bites to rashes to the dogs’ wounds. Turmeric has taken on a new meaning for me after I have made Tamilnadu our home base. Most of the organic farmers I know grow turmeric along with other crops and constantly talk about the crop, the planting stock ( rhizomes) , the harvest and the curcumin content. Organic farmers grow and process turmeric without the aid of any chemicals at any stage. In non organic farming fungicides are extensively used to prevent rotting. It is a ten month crop, which entails another two months of work to boil, dry, and peel the turmeric rhizome to get into sacks safely to be stored up to a year. After getting to know these wonderful organic  farmers, who struggle against so many odds to grow this golden crop without chemicals, turmeric has been elevated from being a spice to a livelihood or way of life. I have seen different hues of turmeric coming from different farms and appreciate not only its amazing healing properties but also the effort that goes into growing and reaching it to us without contamination.

Curcumin & Piperine – Turmeric and Black Pepper Recipe Connection

Turmeric and Black Pepper Recipe
Pepper and Turmeric

It is recently that I learnt that research has found that turmeric and black pepper recipe has a connection – curcumin in turmeric becomes more bioavailable to us if used in conjunction with pepper. Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that gives it the colour yellow and grants its anti-inflammatory properties and also some other health benefits. The piperine in pepper, that gives it pungency aids the absorption of curcumin by our body.  An Ayurvedic doctor told me, “ According to Ayurveda a combination of turmeric and pepper improves immunity and digestion.” All this while I never realised that adding pepper and turmeric powder had combined health benefits as well.

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2018, full of colour and zing like turmeric and pepper!

Devi, Bio Basics, January 1, 2018

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