Nothing to Sneeze At

Food prices keep rising. Not news to you, I’m sure. They will continue to do so, albeit major crop damage or a catastrophic event. Consumers become resentful when price increases are inflated due to some trendy motive, as in the case of celery some months back. Funny how celery has been selling for under a dollar presently. But that’s not the case in this instance.

Recently you may have noticed the price of black pepper. Yes, ordinary everyday black pepper. Sure, you will always pay more for gourmet varieties, but usually not more for common household pepper (piper nigrum.) It’s the most widely used herb/ spice in the world, and it now sells for as much as $6.99 for just 3 ounces. Why? This time the reason is plain and simple: supply and demand.

Focus on health plays an important part for the demand. Black pepper will improve your heart rate and blood pressure. It increases healthy cell growth and improves digestion. Also improving nutrient absorption and being anti- inflammatory, it doesn’t take much black pepper to reap all its benefits.

Although we should be cooking more of our food at home, the demand for processed food is growing daily. The increased demand for bakery goods, confectionary products, fried foods and ready-to-eat meals drives the black pep- per market higher. Consumers want more natural flavor enhancers in these products and black pepper fits the bill. Even Far East countries are now using black pepper in their cooking, creating more demand. We now consume more than 400,000 tons of black pepper globally and that figure is expected to rise dramatically by 2023. Black pepper, with its antibacterial and antioxidant properties, has also recently entered the skincare industry. It's simply a case of too much demand, too fast and not enough supply. So be fair warned and pick up some extra black pepper if you’re like me and use a lot of this “monarch of spices.” Or have you ever thought of growing your own plant? Tropical, heatloving and native to India, black pepper can be grown inside during colder months and outdoors if partially shaded from direct hot afternoon California sun. Being tropical, it does require regular watering and proper humidity. It will grow best in either a basket or moveable container. It has a vining habit, so a trellis is needed.

If you begin with a larger plant, it will bloom all summer, with the fruit ripening the following year. Although sometimes it may take three years to harvest, be patient. It really is a lovely plant. Depending on the time of harvest, all four types of peppercorns, black, white, red and green can come from the same plant. And wouldn’t it be satisfying to grind your own peppercorns!

By Cheryl Balster