Popularly known as ‘The King of Spices’ or ‘Black Gold’, black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) is one of the most important spices of India, valued highly for its medicinal properties. India is the largest producer and consumer of this ancient spice that is used in a variety of cuisines, in the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines and in the preparation of decoctions and tonics by traditional doctors in hilly areas.
Kerala and Karnataka are the largest producers of black pepper in India. Black pepper has now become the preferred cash crop of small and marginal farmers in Karnataka especially in Kodagu. It is mainly grown as an intercrop with coffee, areca nut, cardamom etc.
The high elevation, dense forest cover, intensity and duration of rainfall, soil rich in organic matter and relatively foggy (misty) conditions prevalent in Coorg is conducive for the cultivation of pepper. Over the years, several varieties of black pepper have been grown in Kodagu with the intention to increase productivity per hectare that is often restricted by the high altitude and sudden change in the weather.
After a lengthy research and evaluation of 10 released varieties, scientists at the CHES (Central Horticultural Experiment Station), Chettalli and KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra), Gonikoppal arrived at a high-yielding clone of black pepper that could yield around 9.97 kg/vine of green berries as compared to Panniyur – 1, the leading variety of Coorg region that could yield only around 6.71 kg/vine of green berries.
The spike length, the number of berries per spike, weight of green berries per spike, weight of dry berries per spike, green yield (kg/vine), dry yield (kg/vine) and percent recovery was found to be much higher in this cloned variety. Overall, the findings suggested that the cloned variety was far superior to Panniyur – 1 and this line was identified and named as Arka Coorg Excel and recommended for the Coorg region.
Pepper is grown on coffee plantations dotted with shade giving trees like the Indian coral tree (Erythrina indica), silver oak tree (Grevillea robusta) and others as pepper vines spread horizontally around the support plant or tree. Pepper is usually harvested between March and May before the fruits turn red. The harvested fruits are dried and cured normally on bamboo mats. They are then sorted and graded as per colour, size and shape.
Green berries are used to make pickles and in the preparation of traditional cuisine. Coorg black pepper is revered for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticancer properties. It acts as a natural antioxidant and is an excellent source of Vitamin A and K and is rich in minerals like iron and calcium.
A healthy dose of milagu rasam (pepper rasam) is recommended as a treatment for fever, cold and cough.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)