The King of Spices

Guess what spice is considered the king of all spices? It is "Black Pepper".  According to the history of spices, black pepper was a highly valued spice in Europe, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, went on a long sea-voyage to India primarily in search of pepper! Until he discovered a sea route to India, the spice was brought to Europe by land through Arab traders who kept the land route a secret. In the 15th century, the West valued pepper as much as gold. Demand was huge and the supply was short. Today pepper is freely available around the world and is almost used in every cuisine. It is rightly known as the "king of spices". 

India was ruled by the British for more than 200 years. In 1947, India became independent. When British ruled India, according to a popular story, a chef from the state of  Tamil Nadu, served an Englishman a soup of lentils with garlic, ginger and black pepper. When the Englishman asked for the name of the soup, the chef replied,  “Molagu Thanni”, which means literally, pepper water (known as rasam)  in Tamil. “Splendid” remarked the Englishman. Let us have “Mulligatawny” more often, shall we? And a legend of the Mulligatawny soup was born. Even today, it is served as a soup in many Indian restaurants in England.

Pepper is the fruit of a perennial vine. The flowers give way to berries which are first green then become red fruits and finally become the familiar black spice. There are more than 24 varieties of pepper. Commonly used pepper is round, black, shriveled and hard. It is an aromatic, hot spice. Black Pepper is used in whole or in powdered form. A powdered form of black pepper combined with cumin in equal portion, is a commonly used spice mixture in many Indian foods. This powder is also a great salt substitute. Black pepper is a stimulant digestive and diuretic spice.

Here is a recipe for a delicious and healthful rice dish called “Black Pepper and Cumin Rice with Cashews” from the book that I have co-authored with my Whitefish Bay neighbor and dear friend, Dr. Patricia Marquardt, Healthy South Indian Cooking. This rice dish goes particularly well with fish and chicken. Trust me it is not hot. You will love the aromatic Basmati rice enhanced with pepper and cumin. It is so easy-to-prepare.

 Black Pepper Rice with Cashews: (A distinctly savory rice dish, Black Pepper Rice goes well with chicken or fish)

1 cup Basmati Rice

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 whole dried red pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2  cup chopped yellow onion

1/2  teaspoon black pepper powder

1/2  teaspoon cumin powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/4  cup dry roasted cashews


·         Cook rice in rice cooker or in a saucepan in 2 cups of water following directions for fluffy rice. Cool rice for about 15 minutes and set aside.

·         Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add cumin seeds and stir-fry for few seconds.

·         Add onion and cook for another minute. Add cooked rice and stir the rice gently into seasoning.

·         Add black pepper and cumin powder to rice, and salt. Mix well.

·         Add cashews and stir-well.


Do you know what the queen of spices is?  Take a guess. We will wait  for the next blog to find the answer.



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