Kampot Black Peppercorns: Flavor Profile
Kampot black pepper is a cultivar of Piper nigrum, which is native to the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia. Yet, Kampot pepper is special. It’s grown exclusively in southern Cambodia, in the Kampot province, and must origin in this region to be called Kampot pepper.
Kampot pepper’s flavor has a similar profile to Indian-grown black pepper, although its taste is a bit spicier with fruit and citrus undertones. Kampot pepper also has a higher oil content – up to 5 percent – which helps to deliver a richer, more aromatic flavor. Called the King of Pepper, Kampot pepper is a versatile spice and can substitute for black pepper in any recipe.
Cooking with Kampot Pepper
Kampot pepper is revered for its richer, bolder flavors. And therefore, it adds more smoky spice and peppery tanginess to dishes. This is a real gourmet pepper, and it’s very popular in French cooking. You can use Kampot pepper similar to common black pepper. It pairs naturally with high-fat meats and cheese, it elevates any stock or stew, and it’s great used fresh over nearly any savory dish.
In particular, Kampot pepper is used in many French dishes, including:
- Dry rubs – Kampot pepper is a great dry rub ingredient. It pairs nicely with beef, and when cracked provides a robust texture. The pepper helps to draw out natural flavors, and it adds a bit of heat and spice.
- Cheese – Pepper and cheese are favorite bedfellows, as the creaminess of the cheese balances the smoky heat of the pepper. You’ll find Kampot pepper in a number of cheesy dishes and sauces.
- Soups and Stews – Kampot pepper is a powerful flavor enhancer in long-simmering dishes. Add it as a finishing spice for a bolder, fresher flavor.
Kampot Pepper: History
Kampot, Cambodia has a long history of producing pepper. In fact, Chinese travelers to the region first made note of the region’s flavorful black pepper the 13th century. Yet, the region’s pepper production wasn’t officially commercialized until the 1800s.
During French rule from the 1870s to the early 1900s, pepper production increased significantly. The number of growing vines increased to nearly 1 million, and more than 10,000 tons of pepper was produced each year. This is one of the region’s why Kampot pepper is still widely used in French cooking.
Pepper production came to a halt in the 1970s, during the Khumer Rogue regime years. Many of the region’s pepper vines were burned or destroyed, and it has taken nearly four decades for Cambodia’s pepper industry to recover.
In fact, as recently as 2004, only 2 tons of pepper were produced by Cambodian farmers. Fortunately, Kampot pepper is experiencing a renaissance, and today, about 500 pepper farmers operate in the Kampot region. Also, in 2010, Kampot pepper received its Protected Geographical Indication, meaning to be called Kampot pepper it must be grown in the region. Today, Kampot produces nearly 50 tons of pepper each year.
Growing Kampot Pepper
The Piper nigrum plant is a climbing vine that can reach up to 15 feet in height. It’s slightly bushy, with broad leaves, and produces a green, berry-like fruit.
Kampot’s unique climate and soil conditions are said to be the reason for the pepper’s distinctive flavors. Kampot is located near active volcanos and the soil is rich with quartz. The climate in the mountainous coastal region is also very hot and humid and receives up to 400 cm of rain per year. The vines thrive in these conditions, growing rapidly during the winter.
Pepper plants are a perennial. Once planted, they take three years to begin produce fruit, but after that, they can produce for up to 20 years or longer.
The peppercorns mature on the vine and are harvested throughout the year. Once picked, the berries are boiled for a short time to reduce their starch content. Once cooked, the peppercorns are laid out to dry in the sun for up to a week or longer.
About Our Kampot Pepper
Burma Spice sources our Kampot pepper from small multi-generational farms around the Trapeang Chrey region. Many of our farms tend to have small productions, about 200 vines or fewer.
One of our farmers, Bol Chea, operates a 250-vine farm in the foothills of the Elephant Mountains. Chea’s grandfather and father were pepper farmers during French rule, but their crops were destroyed and they were forced to grow rice. Chea and his family harvest peppercorns from February to May, and they utilize traditional outdoor drying methods. Today, Chea and other farmers are leading the industry’s regrowth in the country. We’re proud to work with farmers like Chea and support the rebirth of pepper growing in Kampot.
We source whole black peppercorns from Chea’s and other small farms in the region. And we package them by hand in our spice shop.