Long pepper is a spice often used in Indian, Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian cooking that has been mistaken for black pepper on numerous occasions. But unlike its simple cousin, long pepper offers eaters a flavor profile that reads more like a spice blend than a single origin plant. This includes nuances of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and a sweet heat. Use it to make lentil soup, flavor roasted meats, enhance a barbecue sauce and to add a unique spice to lightly cooked vegetables.
What Is Long Pepper?
Grown mainly in India and the Indonesian island of Java, long pepper, also called pippali and pipli, is the tiny fruit that comes from the long, cone-like flower spike grown on a flowering vine of the same name. The fruits are roughly the size of a poppy seed and are used whole and ground up, often in lieu of black, white or green pepper. Though long pepper is substituted for these other, more common peppers, the taste runs more akin to the spice blend garam masala thanks to the subtle notes of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. This spice also has a lingering bite, which has made it a preferred addition to many dishes in India and southeast Asian countries.
Varieties of Long Pepper
There are actually two types long pepper, India's piper longum, and piper retrofactum, which grows in Indonesia and tends to be cheaper and easier to find. The two spices prove similar enough in appearance and flavor to be used interchangeably. They can easily be told apart when whole thanks to the color, the Indian version is black-brown and the Indonesian long pepper has a red hue. In India the long pepper is also referred by the Hindu word pipli, in Cambodia it's called dei-phlei, and in Thailand they dubbed it dee-plee.
Long Pepper vs Grains of Paradise
Grains of paradise, or alligator pepper, is another spice used as a substitute for black pepper. Unlike long pepper, which is a fruit, grains of paradise are seeds. Where long pepper comes mainly from India, grains of paradise hale from Africa. The African seeds have a woodsy, citrus and herbal flavor that proceeds a burst of heat that coats the mouth before fading away. In comparison, Indian long peppers have more warming spices to the flavor, though the heat level proves similar even as it dissipates faster.
Long pepper grows in India and Indonesia, mainly in Java, though the two areas produce slightly different plants. In India long pepper was documented in ancient textbooks of Ayurveda, a holistic health practice that's been prevalent in the country for centuries. While it was used to flavor food, this ingredient was first celebrated as a health aide. This holistic use prevailed even when long pepper came to be a popular item in Greece around the 6th century BCE.
Eventually long pepper also became a culinary staple Greek and Roman food, and eventually in other Europe countries where it often competed with round black pepper. But this love for the tiny fruit shifted when Europeans focused more on the round black pepper and the chilies Spain brought from the Americas. Now it's not a common ingredient outside of India and southeast Asia, but it can be found online and at specialty spice shops.
Whole vs. Ground
The fruits inside the long pepper flower are about the size of a poppy seed. These can be used in stews, in spice mixes, on grilled meats and anywhere a course spice is used. The long pepper can also be ground up just like its kin the round black pepper, either in a pepper grinder or crushed with a mortar and pestle. When refined this way the ingredient blends well into sauces, can be used to liven up bread and works well to create smoother spice mixtures.
What Does It Taste Like?
The closest food to compare the long pepper taste to is regular black pepper, the type on most dining room tables. It's got that same peppery bite, but packs a bit more heat and has earthy undertones and a sly sweetness. There also may be notes of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, making it more complex than basic black pepper.
Cooking With Long Pepper
Use long pepper as any other spice, especially black pepper. It can be stirred into soups, used to spike a southeast Asian noodle bowl or fried rice, put into savory pastries and more. Ground the long pepper first when using in dishes that require a smoother spice, or use whole in chunkier foods such as stew or curry. Long pepper can be use in place of other peppers at a one-to-one ratio, depending on the level of spice desired. With that in mind, Indian long pepper isn't a hot spice like chili peppers, it's more of an earthy heat that spreads through the palate and dissipates quickly.
Recipes With Long Pepper
Long pepper can be used in place of black and white pepper in many dishes, especially ones with Indian or southeast Asian cooking methods and ingredients. Try it the next time a food needs a little more heat and depth of flavor.
Black, white and green pepper can be used instead of long pepper. These peppers don't have as bold a flavor and possess less of a bite, but are good if a dish needs to be toned down or if one simply can't find long pepper.
Where to Buy Long Pepper
The easiest way to find long pepper both whole and ground is online. Major grocery stores don't carry this uncommon food, though specialty shops and spice stores may. Also look into Indian and Asian markets. Long pepper, or pipli, can be found in the spice section, usually near black and white pepper and the salts.
Because long pepper usually is bought dried, it's easy to store the spice for months, even years as long as it remains in a cool, dark place inside an air-tight container. Keep long pepper whole to maintain the most flavor. If the long pepper is ground try and use up within a couple months. It won't go bad, but the pungency of the spice dissipates the older it gets.