Author: Meghana S Nair
India is the prominent producer of a wide range of spices and has the largest domestic market for spices in the world. In ancient times, India attracted traders from remote parts of the world in search of exotic spices. In the 1480s, Christopher Columbus set out on an expedition to seek a western sea passage to the East Indies, hoping to profit from the lucrative spice trade. After decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies, Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, Kerala on 20 May 1498, establishing the first sea route to India by linking Europe and Asia. The main spices at first obtained from Southeast Asia were pepper and cinnamon, but soon included other products, all new to Europe.
For the longest time, Indian spices have played a vital role in different cuisines to increase the palatability and they are also used for flavoring, coloring, and preservative agents. They come with several benefits other than making great dishes at the end of the day. Spices and spice derivatives are also expanding their applications to industries such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, beverages, food processing, personal hygiene products and many more.
The contribution of Indian spices to health benefits has been well chronicled since Vedic times. Spices come with notable nutritional values and provide some major health benefits. The most popular spices from India are pepper, red chili, turmeric, green cardamom, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, etc., But there are numerous other spices out there which although are less common, offer richer and more interesting flavors along with some medicinal properties. One of such uncommon Indian spices that will be discussing in this article is Pippali commonly known as Indian Long pepper (from Latin – piper longum linn.)
What is Pippali or Indian Long Pepper?
Pippali, also known as Indian Long Pepper, Pipal, Bengal Pepper, Indonesian Long Pepper, Lada Panjong, Thippili, Java pepper or Javanese pepper in various regions around the world, is native to India and Indonesia.
Although largely unknown today, it has a rich history dating back centuries into early Indian, Indonesian, African, Malaysian and Mediterranean style cooking. It is a key ingredient in many recipes and is often confused for black pepper. While the flavor closely resembles regular black pepper, the taste of long pepper is much hotter with sweet and somewhat earthy, gingery undertones.
It is an exotic climbing perennial plant that usually bears long thin conical ridged fruits. These fruits are picked early – when they are not yet ripe and still green in color because they give a characteristic aroma and the taste is most intense at this stage of their development. Once harvested, the fruits are dried in the Sun until they become grey or almost black. Most often they remain intact because in this way their valuable healing properties are preserved for a longer period of time. Unlike any other herb, it is the dry fruits of the pippali plant that offers the therapeutic benefits.
Health Benefits and Usage of Pippali in Ayurveda
Pippali or Long pepper is an important and common ingredient in many medicines of Ayurveda. The traditional herb goes by the botanical name Piper longum and comes from the Piperaceae family.
According to the classification of Ayurveda, long pepper is heavy, slightly oily and it has moisturizing properties. Fruits and roots of piper longum are loaded with bioactive nutrients that are crucial for the better operating of the entire body system and has a quick and almost immediate effect after consumption.
Pippali or long pepper has anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-asthmatic, anti-diabetic and antioxidant properties. It is also familiar for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, anti-depressant and anti-ulcerative properties. It is widely used for the treatment of various diseases including respiratory disorders, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, problems related to the reproductive system and other infections.
1. Respiratory Disorders
Pippali is an ultimate remedy for conditions affecting the respiratory tract like asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cough and cold, as it acts as a counter-irritant and eases inflammation. When consumed, its anti-bacterial properties help in removing phlegm deposits from the respiratory tract, providing relief from cough and ease congestion.
2. Gastrointestinal Disorders
Pippali is effective in stimulating the digestive system and boosts appetite, as well as treat gastrointestinal disorders such as stomachache, heartburn, gastritis, indigestion, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), diarrhea, and cholera, owing to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, carminative, laxative, and expectorant properties.
Pippali can help manage hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. The exceptional hypoglycemic property of pippali plays a significant role in assuaging the blood sugar levels of the body. It reduces the breakdown of starch into glucose which in turn leads to low blood glucose levels. As per Ayurveda, pippali is an alternative remedy not just for diabetes but also for the oxidative stress that many diabetics experience.
4. Reproductive and Menstrual Problems
Pippali has high essential oil content and also stimulant nature which is incredibly nourishing to the deeper reproductive tissues of the body improving their strength. Due to their warming power, the fruits of the plant act as an aphrodisiac and improve the functions of the respective organs.
Ancient healers used to give pippali to women to induce contractions during childbirth and even afterward to improve healing while the uterus returns to normal size. It also helps in relieving menstrual problems and it has been used for managing the heavy menstrual flow and combating menstrual cramps.
5. Other Infections
Pippali has robust anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and antifungal properties, it is not only extremely effective for removing bacteria or germs from the body but also used for treating and healing wounds. The biochemical compounds present in this aromatic herb has been used since ancient times to shield the body against various infections.
6. Weight Loss
Pippali aids in weight loss with its natural fat-burning properties. It effectively detoxifies the body by removing AMA toxins and reduces sudden hunger pangs and a craving for unhealthy foods. It improves digestion, reduces the accumulation of bad cholesterol in the body, thereby improving metabolism and helping the body to shed weight faster.
7. Cosmetics and Other Uses
Pippali is also used as a rejuvenating agent because of its antioxidant properties. Many cosmetic lines have been created based on it, as well as a number of food supplements and potions for longevity and flawless appearance.
Its anti-inflammatory properties are very effective for treating muscle spasms, allergies, as well as for parasites. It can relieve even a sharp toothache by reducing the pain and inflammation in the teeth.
Usage of Pippali in Everyday Cooking
Pippali or Indian long pepper is used for the preparation of exquisite culinary dishes. It can be found in some Indian vegetable pickles, several North African spice blends as well as in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking.
Pippali can also be used for the preparation of curries, soups, salads, marinades and various meat dishes, as well as for flavoring teas, masala, syrups and juices. It gives a light spicy touch to the dishes and fits well with other typical herbs such as coriander, turmeric and ginger.
Long pepper is often added to the brine of the traditional pickles and most types of pickled vegetables. Its taste goes very well with the taste of the eggs and cheeses, and also it improves digestion, that is why this pepper helps us to better absorb these heavier animal products.
Long pepper should not be used as an ordinary spice but it could be used as a substitute for black pepper or white pepper in any dish. While early pepper aficionados would use both black pepper and long pepper almost interchangeably, the long pepper was preferred when greater heat was sought.
Pippali or Long pepper is a unique aromatic herb that has been with us for centuries owing to its extensive curative properties. You won’t find many recipes calling specifically for long pepper but grind to a powder and it can be used as an intriguing substitute for regular black pepper. You can add it to your black tea and enjoy it with some lemon and a spoon of honey to treat the common cold or you can add it to your South Indian curries like rasam. You can even use it as a seasoning for salad or marinate your meat for extra flavor. You can simply use it on fresh fruits or experiment in any dish where it’s unique flavor characteristics aren’t overshadowed. Due to its warming qualities, pippali is a great choice for cold days, but it should not be consumed when the weather is hot or when symptoms of dehydration are present: such as intense thirst, dryness in the mouth, or burning sensation in the urinary tract.
Pippali is one such humble spice that is laden with umpteen health benefits. Ayurvedic doctors suggest that long pepper should be in everyone’s kitchen. However, it is important to be careful not to overdo the amount of pippali we use and take into account the health condition of our guests to whom we offer the culinary dishes that contain pippali.