Black Peppers in Tien Phuoc, Quang Nam – A Spice Plays Different Roles

Thứ năm, 17/08/2017 08:53

Playing an indispensable role in daily meals of locals, black peppers in Tien Phuoc (Quang Nam province) has become the most famous specialty which were traded through Hoi An port to western Europe and Japan since 17th century.

Being cultivated hundred years ago but farming area and quantity of black pepper in Tien Phuoc are quite low and only at household scale. Farmers here have been raising black pepper mostly by their own experiences run in family. Harsh weather and soil conditions do not allow pepper vines to grow widely but such strict standards of the nature do create a special type of firm, pungent and flavorful black peppercorns.

Black pepper vines in a household’s garden. Photo:

Black pepper in Tien Phuoc is mostly domestic type, which has small-dark-green leaves and short yet dense spikes. The plants are propagated by cuttings about 40 to 50cm long, tied up to neighboring trees or climbing frames about 7 – 10m high and they’ll live together up to 40 years. This typical kind of black pepper is really picky so that farmers here need to take a very meticulous care of them. Mr. Tu Chau (Tien My town) said, “Planting a pepper vine is like to take care of a child. Must follow it closely. Otherwise it will die after just a couple months.” Beside watering and pest controlling, fertilizers are the prerequisite that define quality of final peppercorns. Locals here usually have used organic manure. Mr. Chau said, “We only use manure. We don’t use fertilizer because I think natural stuff is always better.” People have admired his lush pepper back yard with more than 200 units. They all understand that under the harsh climate here, those pepper vines are results of huge work and effort. 

For the beginning of civilization, black pepper has been used as a spice and natural medicine widely on the world. In China, black peppercorns are made to patches for asthma; in India, people use peppercorns to treat cholera and to improve health after sickness or fever; Indonesians use black peppercorns as a component of health supplements and pain relief pills, especially for women after giving birth; in Nepal, black pepper is used with other natural medicine to treat flu and cold, undigested symptom, or arthritic; and Russian physiotherapists have proved that taking a bath tub with some drops of black pepper extract oil can refresh the body and mind.

Locals in Tien Phuoc, during their culinary progressing, have realized that black peppercorns also can treat common sickness. Old people usually have a bottle of peppercorn wine for digestive problems. The recipe is quite simple; we just need 50g cleaned black peppercorns soaking with 500ml pure white wine; cover and seal the bottle, place in dry and airy place. This medical wine should be ready after 6 months but the longer we keep, the better it is. During winter and cold days, just chewing half of a peppercorn can warm you up. Another example is that when you have a cold, all you need is a bowl of really hot congee with green onion and smashed peppercorn relish. That combination can make you sweat and wake up your digestive system, senses, and the whole body.

Besides folk experiences, oriental medicine also believes that peppercorn can warm the abdomen and stimulate digestion, treat nausea, ease pain, and cause gastritis; black pepper wine is also used as massage liquid to treat muscle-ache or osteoarthritis pain.

To treat Rheumatism, soak peppercorn, anise, and alum in pure white wine then use the wine as massage liquid. To treat toothache, rubbing pepper powder at the root can ease the pain and kill bacteria. To treat digestive problems, cook congee with a lot of pepper powder and have it hot. To reduce cramp in period, swallow 1g of pepper powder with a small glass of warm wine.

They way people use seasonings can reflect local lifestyle, especially at the central Viet Nam. They have their own products of spices and they let those products play significant roles in daily life. Besides salty fish sauce, buttery peanut oil, aromatic chive root tube, and colorful turmeric, peppercorns fill the last blank of a basic map of spice with their pungent taste, which can reduce fishy smell, enrich flavors of seasoned meat, and balance yin-yang within a dish. Peppercorns work well with any dish – grilled, steamed, or even a boiled soup. Especially, with local people in Quang Nam province, black peppercorn is a “must have” seasoning in their specialties, such as Quảng noodles, steamed beef paste, or chicken rice.

Pork in Quảng noodles is always seasoned with crushed black peppercorn.

To push the pungent flavor of peppercorns to the highest, farmers here only choose ripe drupes from pepper vines and dry them under the sun until drained. Dried peppercorns are stored in glass jars. When needed, they take enough peppercorns, crush them then marinate raw ingredients or cooking dishes.

Finished dried black peppercorns. Photo: Quang Ngai Newspaper

Not as big as Phu Quoc or Lam Dong peppercorns (the 2 famous types in Viet Nam) but quality of Tien Phuoc peppercorns is not less than other types at all, even it might be better. Outstanding quality of this type of peppercorn is caused by authentic species and natural conditions, which are regional soil, water, and climate. However, range of pepper farming in Tien Phuoc is quite small and within households only, from some to about a hundred units. Farmers have no new techniques but they all have stuck with extensive culture so that their productivity is low. High value but low supply has pushed the price of Tien Phuoc peppercorn up to $25 - $35 per kg at site, which is about 5 to 7 times of other areas’ products like Daklak or Gia Lai in 2016, 2017.

Although peppercorns in Tien Phuoc have brought high value and uses to the economic, medical, and of course culinary fields, to develop and expand farming areas have faced big difficulties, especially branding process. Hopefully one day, the aromatic pungent peppercorns of Tien Phuoc can make a path to common markets and play the role it should be on Vietnamese map of spices.

By Thu Pham

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