Once upon a time there were no chilies in southeast Asia. It was black pepper (Piper Nigrum) that had dominated the landscape. Archaeologist date the cultivating of pepper as far back as the 4th millennia BCE meaning 6-5 thousands years ago and its origin is believed to be in southern India, in Kerala province.
The pepper spread into the neighboring southeast Asia area where it has been cultivated for local consumption and trade. Pepper therefore has been part of the culture since ancient history and evolved to become a prominent spice in Thai cuisine. It is one of three ingredients in a base paste, that I call the trinity, comprising of white pepper, coriander root and garlic. This paste is used in many dishes including, stews, grill marination and soups or curries (gaeng). I especially like the use of the basic and simple paste in clear and soothing soups like Gaeng Jued which literally means ‘simple soup/curry’.
The most common forms of pepper ‘Prik Thai’ used in Thai cuisine are (dried) white pepper ‘Prik Thai Khao’ in Thai and (fresh) green pepper ‘Prik Thai On’. Black pepper ‘Prik Thai Dam’ is used more sparingly in dishes.
All three forms of pepper are the products of different processing methods of berries of the Piper Nigrum plant. The green are just unripe fresh peppercorns that are picked from the plant with no processing at all. The white involves soaking the berries in water for a few days to soften the flesh of the fruit so it can be removed easily, exposing the pepper whitish seeds that are then dried. Black pepper is produced through the short boiling of green unripe peppercorns with the fruit flash on. The boiling causes the darkening of the berries that are then dried.
Green fresh peppercorns are used in variety of dishes including stir-fries, curries and relishes adding a bold peppery and spicy kick.
White pepper is used mostly ground, after a quick dry roast and added to curry pastes as well as stir-fries, soups and more.