Long Pepper Comes in Black and White

Long pepper (Piper longum), sometimes called Javanese, Indian or Indonesian Long Pepper, is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit today but which has usually been dried and used as a  seasoning.

Long pepper is a close relative of Piper nigrum producing both black and white pepper, and has a similar yet hotter, taste.

The fruit of the pepper consists of many minuscule fruits — each about the size of a poppy seed — embedded in the surface of a flower spike that closely resembles a hazel tree catkin. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is a small drupe five millimeters in diameter, dark red when fully mature, containing a single seed.

The fruits contain the alkaloid piperine, which contributes to their pungency. Another species of long pepper, Piper retrofractum, is native to Java, Indonesia.

Dried long pepper catkins

Long  pepper is native to South India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions.  The plant is distributed from Central Himalayas to Assam, Lower hills of Bengal, evergreen forests of Western Ghats, Nicobar Islands, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.

Long Pepper is cultivated on a large scale in lime stone soil and in heavy rainfall areas where relative humidity is high.

The fruits and roots of Long Pepper are used as medicine for respiratory disease and as counter irritant and analgesic for muscular pains and inflammation. It has carminative, haematinic and anti-helmintic properties.

Historic Trivia

Round, or black pepper began to compete with long pepper in Europe from the twelfth century and had displaced it by the fourteenth century.

The quest for cheaper and more dependable sources of black pepper fueled the Age of Discoveries; only after the discovery of the New World and of chile pepper, called by the Spanish pimiento, employing their word for long pepper, did the popularity of long pepper fade away.[2]

Long pepper reached Greece in the sixth or fifth century BCE, though Hippocrates,the first writer to mention it, discussed it as a medicament rather than a spice.[1] Among the Greeks and Romans and prior to the European discovery of the New World, long pepper was an important and well-known spice. The ancient history of black pepper is often interlinked with (and confused with) that of long pepper, though Theophrastus distinguished the two in the first work of botany.[3]

Cooking with Long Pepper- Black and White

Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe berries of the pepper plant. The berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures cell walls in the fruit, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the fruit around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer around the seed. Once dried, the fruits are called black peppercorns.

White pepper consists of the seed only, with the fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by allowing fully ripe berries to soak in water for about a week, during which time the flesh of the fruit softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. Alternative processes are used for removing the outer fruit from the seed, including removal of the outer layer from black pepper produced from unripe berries.

Black pepper is the most common, while white pepper is mainly used in dishes like light-colored sauces or mashed potatoes, where ground black pepper would visibly stand out. There is disagreement regarding which is generally spicier. They do have differing flavors due to the presence of certain compounds in the outer fruit layer of the berry that are not found in the seed.

Availability Today

Today long pepper is a rarity in general commerce. Chile peppers, some of which, when dried, are similar in shape and taste to long pepper, are easier to grow in a variety of locations more convenient to Europe and the Americas.

Today, long pepper is an extremely rare ingredient in European cuisines, but it can still be found in Indian vegetable pickles, some North African spice mixtures, and in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking. It is readily available at Indian grocery stores, where it is usually labeled Thippili.


1. Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, Anthea Bell, tr. The History of Food, revised ed. 2009.

2. Philippe and Mary Hyman, “Connaissez-vous le poivre long?” L’Histoire no. 24 (June 1980).

3. Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, Anthea Bell, tr. The History of Food, revised ed. 2009.


Dalby, Andrew (Oct 1, 2002). Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices, 89. Google Print. ISBN 0-520-23674-2 (accessed October 25, 2005). Also available in print from University of California Press.

McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition). Scribner. ISBN 0-684-80001-2.  pp 427-429, “Black Pepper and Relatives”.


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