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Pepper is not just pepper: From Cayenne to Szechuan
Many different pepper specialties are offered on the spice rack and on the Internet. However, this is not necessarily "real pepper", which is available in black, white and green. Real pepper is always obtained from the evergreen pepper shrub (Piper nigrum).
Some variants are closely related to real pepper. They come from another species in the pepper family, such as long pepper (Piper longum) and Java pepper (Piper retrofractum). The berries have grown into a stick about three centimeters long and taste sweet and sour and even hotter than real pepper. The sticks are usually fully cooked and then removed. Pieces can also be broken off and crushed or ground in a mortar. In traditional Indian medicine Ayurveda, long pepper is used to stimulate digestion and cleanse the body.
Cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba) was an inexpensive replacement for real pepper in 16th century Europe. The black-brown kernels with short stems have a sharp and bitter taste with a slight eucalyptus note and are part of the Moroccan spice mix »Ras el Hanout«. They are often combined with real pepper and cinnamon and should be used sparingly.
Szechuan pepper is obtained from species such as Zanthoxylum piperitum from the diamond family. The dried capsule fruits are broken open to remove the seeds. This "pepper variant" tastes acrid to tingling and slightly lemon. It spices poultry, tofu and fish in the Far Eastern kitchen and goes very well with other spices such as garlic and ginger. However, one should be careful when dosing.
The well-known cayenne pepper has nothing to do with real pepper: the finely ground powder comes from the chili variety Cayenne (Capsicum annuum). It is one of the hottest spices and is used in almost all Indian, Indonesian and Chinese rice dishes. (Heike Kreutz, aid)