Long Pepper

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Long Pepper a spice which was much more widely used in classical and medieval times than now, comes from two species of plant in the pepper family. Piper longum, Indian long pepper, grows wild at the foot of the Himalayas and in S. India. P. retrofractum, Javanese long pepper, is found throughout Malaysia. The latter is the more pungent and generally held to be the better. It is certainly the longer; its fruit, a dark catkin-like spike made up of tiny seeds, may measure 6 cm (2.5") long.

When Theophrastus wrote about pepper in the 3rd century bc, he listed only two kinds, black pepper (P. nigrum) and long pepper: ‘One is round [he describes the reddish fruit of P. nigrum] … The other is long, black, with poppy-like seeds. This is much stronger.’ Nearly 400 years later, Pliny described three sorts of pepper: black, white, and long. The last cost twice as much as white, which in turn cost much more than black.