Black pepper was once so valuable to trade that it was actually used as currency, and the gold standard was once referred to as “black gold.” While visiting the lush farmlands of Kerala, our local guide informed us that we were actually in the birthplace of pepper! This beautiful vine grows on tree trunks, shooting out 3-4 inch spikes with little green peppercorns winding in rows.
I had been in India once before, studying nutrition with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in Pune. I was with a group of American women learning about meditation and yoga and how chefs there infuse the oil with whole spices, throwing cardamom pods and full peppercorns into the oil. I’d only ever seen spices ground into a powder and it was a revelation to see them cooked whole. This most recent trip took it one step further, giving us the incredible opportunity to see the plants that grow our spices. I had no idea that cinnamon was a bush, its leaves tinted red, or that nutmeg looked like a small apple and when opened revealed the shiny red mace.