There is a common misconception that tellicherry peppercorns
must originate from the town of the same name on the Malabar Coast of Kerala,
but in reality, the name actually refers to the size of the peppercorn.
(Tellicherry is actually an Anglicization of the Malay word Thalassery which
means head office!)
These black peppercorns have a fascinating history. They have been used by people for thousands of years, being referred to in Egyptian text as “black gold”. These pepper corns were used in the mummification rituals of Ramesses II, widely considered the greatest pharaoh of ancient Egypt, in 1297 BC!
The history of Ramesses II is fascinating but has nothing to
do with Gin so I need to rein myself in here a bit, suffice to say, he ruled
for 66 years having ascended to power as a teenager and fathered more than a
100 children during his reign. Busy guy!
The history of the spice trade is long and many books have been written about it and I would seriously recommend a book by the author Jack Turner called “Spice, The History of a Temptation” should you want to learn more about this amazing period in our human history.
Suffice to say for this article that the trade of black peppercorns with Europe was immensely profitable for the traders and indeed, Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese explorer, was driven to seek a sea route to India which bypassed Africa precisely to try and capitalise on this potential profitability!
Tellicherry peppers (and indeed all whole black peppercorns) come from the vine of the Piper nigrum plant. This plant is grown in tropical climates all around the world, and is a flowering vine of which peppercorns are the fruit. Although native to Kerala, this plant is extensively grown in tropical climates, and in fact, the greatest producer and exporter of pepper in the world is now Vietnam, producing 34% of the worlds crop!
On the vine, the peppercorn is about 5mm in diameter and is
a beautiful dark red. Once harvested, the peppercorns are blanched in hot water
to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The corns are dried in the sun
for several days and during this process, the skins shrink and darken to
produce the black peppercorns we are all familiar with on the dinner table.
These days tellicherry refers to the larger size of the peppercorns compared to standard peppercorns. These larger peppercorns are more pungent, with a more complex flavour with added citrus notes. It is this character of the tellicherry corns which gives our gin its subtle peppery flavour and warmth and enhances the citrus finish on the palate.