31 March 2010

New Penja Pepper from the Cameroon in Western Africa

New Penja Pepper from the Cameroon in Western Africa

I’ve got some new peppers and as usual I am bit over-giddy about it.  These ones are classic Piper nigrum – the traditional pepper plant for normal black, white and green pepper.   Usually, we get our black pepper from India and Sri Lanka, but these are from Africa – from the Penja Valley in the Cameroon.  The Cameroon is a former French colony and is squeezed between Nigeria to the North-West, The Central African Republic and Chad to the East and the Congos to the South.   They have a wonderfully colourful football team – the Cameroon Lions - who are my non-England team to follow in the South African World Cup this year (see http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/teams/team=43849/profile.html).

The Penja Valley is a great place for horticulture, a remote valley with only 30,000 people living there.  The terroir is a fertile volcanic soil and the climate is ideal for tropical plants, like pepper vines – loads of humidity and rainfall and masses of hot sun.  It’s a steamy, sweaty place.  Like a niche estate wine, only 18 tonnes are grown on this 100 hectares plantation and no chemicals are used in the growing, processing or post-harvest processes, so while not organic they are free from nasties.

The rich volcanic soil creates flavours and aromas that are soft and refined with a delicate musky, mysterious perfume and lots of hot, African heat that lingers bitingly at the back of the throat. 

We have bought some Penja Green and Penja White this time. 

Penja White And Green Peppercorns

The Penja Green is picked while the berries are not yet fully mature and the oxidisation process is stopped by blanching the green berries in boiling hot water.  They are bright lime green in colour with a light, faint peppery aroma and the taste starts with a clean, slightly sweet flavour but this builds up quickly to a bright, bitingly hot and vivacious heat that lingers at the back of the throat and on the tongue. 

The Penja White is matured longer than the black, dried as above, and then the skin is removed in water to reveal the bitingly hot core of the berry, which becomes quite hard and crunchy.  The berries are smaller than the green due to the processing, giving a creamy white ridge shape reminiscent of big coriander seeds.  The aroma is strong, fusty and peppery and the taste is of a truly hot pepper that makes you sweat, quickly getting to an intense, searing white hot heat that lingers around the whole mouth, numbing the tongue.  It's a really great white pepper and I like it better than many of the Indian ones I have tried, although there is perhaps less depth of character than a classic Wayanad white pepper.

Try Penja green pepper and Penja white pepper for some variety to you cooking - more mystery and a bit less refined than Indian peppers but full of great joyful heat.

Please find below the links to buy these peppers - let us know what you think of the pepper: