Pepper's History Spiced with Dark Moments [Derived Headline]

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Pepper's History Spiced with Dark Moments [Derived Headline]


Pepper's history spiced with dark moments

The next time you grind a little black pepper on your steak, think about this:

The pepper trade was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, the enslavement of countless others, the establishment of the opium trade in India and the extinction of the dodo.

Now, enjoy your dinner.

Marjorie Shaffer, a science writer and editor at the New York University School of Medicine, thoroughly examines our culinary friend in "Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice" (St. Martin's Press). In her preface, she calls pepper "the Zelig of the culinary world." It's an apt description.

Pepper was used by the Greeks, Romans and Chinese for medicinal purposes. In medieval times, it was used as currency, at times worth more than gold or silver. And the pepper trade, with its substantial import duties, contributed mightily to the treasury of a fledgling United States in the early 19th century.

Pepper, a dried berry from a vine indigenous to India, is a tropical plant and won't grow just anywhere. Columbus didn't sail from Spain looking for Ohio; he was seeking the Far East and its spices, i.e., pepper. European explorers and traders in the 17th and 18th centuries had much the same goal, though the primary traders, the Dutch and English, were much more aggressive. Those who survived the journeys left a lasting mark on the native people they dealt with and the islands they visited, wiping out entire populations of birds, tortoises and other creatures.

Today, pepper is more than a kitchen staple. Researchers are studying its medicinal properties, and it has shown promise in the treatment of a variety of problems.

America's favorite wine varieties

America's love affair with wine continues. We're pulling further ahead of Europe, but seeing increased competition from China. That's the conclusion of a new study by Vinexpo, the world's most influential wine exhibition, which takes place June 16 to 22 in Bordeaux, France, and expects 48,000 visitors from 140 nations. Here's what the study found:

- United States sippers reaffirmed our country's role as the world's No. …

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Pepper's History Spiced with Dark Moments [Derived Headline]
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