"Pepper" is indispensable for everyday cooking. It is one of the world's three major spices along with chili pepper and mustard. Pepper originated in India. It was introduced to Japan in the Nara period (710-794) via Tang (China), first as a medicine, and later as a spice used as a condiment for udon noodles and "pepper rice" in the Edo period (1603-1868).

Pepper has a long history and was already known in Europe around 400 BC. During the ancient Greek and Roman periods, the more recent species "long pepper" played the role of pepper, but it was gradually replaced by the present pepper during the Middle Ages. In Europe, where only herbal spices were originally available, spices were attractive not only for their aroma, but also for their antiseptic and antibacterial effects that helped preserve food, especially meat, in an age when refrigerators were not available.

Pepper was especially valued for its aroma-enhancing, taint-eliminating, pungent flavor-enhancing, and antiseptic properties. It is said to have been as highly valuable as gold and silver, and was the driving force behind the Age of Exploration, as people set out for new continents one after another in search of pepper. In the Christian missionary work known as "For Pepper and the Spirit," pepper from Southeast Asia was transported to Europe, where it was used to make a profit and to spread the spirit, or Christian teachings, in the region. On the other hand, in China, it is described in the Tang-period pharmacopoeia book "Xinxiu Bencao" that it was also used as a herbal medicine and spice.

The English word "pepper," meaning pepper, originally comes from the Sanskrit word "pippali," meaning long pepper hips, in the ancient Indian language. Pepper is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics, and in Japan, long pepper has been cultivated in Okinawa. Long pepper is also used in Chinese herbal medicine and Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, and is characterized by its unique sweet aroma and refreshing pungency. In Okinawa, pepper is called island pepper, hihatsu, or pipachi, and is used especially in the Yaeyama region to make Okinawan soba noodles, juicy Okinawan cooked rice, and stir-fried chanpuru.

In addition to its antibacterial, antiseptic, and insecticidal effects, pepper's pungent component, piperine, stimulates the absorption of nutrients, promotes blood circulation, improves digestive function, increases appetite, and has antioxidant effects. In addition, β-caryophyllene, an aromatic ingredient in pepper, is believed to relax the nerves and relieve anger and anxiety.

Pepper rice, described in the "Meihan Burui" of the Edo period (1603-1867), was a so-called soup rice, consisting of freshly cooked white rice mixed with ground pepper and topped with dashi broth. It seems to be a way of eating rice that was born in the soup-and-rice culture, from the water-soaked rice and hot water-soaked rice with white water during the Heian period (794-1185) to the appearance of "chazuke-ya" serving chazuke during the Genroku period (1688-1704) in the Edo period (1603-1868). I thought this spicy ochazuke from the Edo period, which can seem surprising, would go well with brown rice or cereal rice. Please try it when you want to change your usual ochazuke a little, or when you want to increase the variety of your white rice dishes.

*The top photo shows pad kee mao, Thai stir-fried noodles with fresh pepper.

Ichiyougama's Spice Mill
Azmaya's Wooden Pestle 165
MokuNeji's Pepper
Appi Urushi Studio's Chazukewan