How To Process Pepper


Are you looking to process pepper? You’ve come to the right place, then. Here’s how to process peppers. Wherever you go in the world, one thing that is unlikely to leave you feeling indifferent is the magical & mesmerizing appeal of black pepper . It is considered as a chief, one of the most important condiments all over the world.

How to Process Pepper


By definition, ‘processing’ does not involve harvesting. However, one cannot produce a good product from badly harvested materials. Correct harvesting techniques could be said to be the most important factor in the production of a high quality final product. The main problem is immature harvesting.

Immature harvesting

The main reasons for immature harvesting is the fear of theft. If the crop is picked correctly when it is mature the higher yields and higher value of the final product may offset the losses due to theft.

Through extension officers, correct harvesting should be encouraged.

However sometimes immature pepper receives a higher price than mature pepper due to purchase by food processors due to its higher percentage of flavour components.

Correct harvesting

The pepper spike should be picked when one or more of the berries start going yellow/orange. The berries should be hard to the touch.


In most countries the harvested pepper berries are removed from the spikes before drying. This can be done by hand, beating with sticks or trampling on the pepper spikes.


A clean product is essential. The major problem for the export of pepper by small-scale farmers is the production of a sufficiently clean product.

The first step is to remove dust, dirt and stones using a winnowing basket, see Figure 1. This can be done in the same way as for rice. Someone used to this work can remove the dirt, dust and stone quickly and efficiently (they can clean over 100kg of pepper in an eight-hour day).

Figure 1: A cabinet dryer

There are machines that can be bought or made that can remove the dust, dirt and stones. However, for a small-scale unit, winnowing the crop by hand is the most appropriate system.

After winnowing the crop needs to be washed in water, for quantities of up to 50kg a day, all that is needed is two or three 15 litre plastic buckets. The crop should be washed by hand and drained two or three times. For larger quantities a 1m³ sink/basin with a plug hole needs to be constructed. This can be made out of concrete. However, the water must be changed regularly to prevent recontamination by dirty water. Only potable water should be used.

The pepper berries can be blanched before drying by dipping them in boiling water for ten minutes. This accelerates the drying and browning of the berries. However, the fuel costs may be prohibitive.


This is by far the most important section in the process. The inability to adequately dry the produce will, at the very least, slow down the whole process and possibly lead to mould growth. Any pepper with even a trace of mould cannot be used for processing. The sale value of mouldy pepper can be less than 50% the normal value. In extreme cases, the whole crop can be lost. To get the full black colour of dried pepper it needs to be dried in direct sunshine. This can be achieved by sun drying, solar drying or in a combined solar and wood burning drier.

Figure 2: ‘Exell Solar Dryer’

During the dry season, sun drying is usually adequate to dry the produce. The simplest and cheapest method is to lay the produce on mats in the sun. However, there are problems associated with this method. Dust and dirt are blown onto the crop and unexpected rain storms can re-wet the crop.

A solar dryer avoids these problems. The simplest type is the cabinet solar dryer, see Figure 1, which can be constructed out of locally available materials (eg bamboo, coir fibre or nylon weave).

For larger units (over 30kg/day) an ‘Exell Solar Dryer’ could be used, see Figure 2. However, the construction costs are greater and a full financial evaluation should therefore be made to ensure that a higher income from better quality spices can justify the additional expense.

During the wet season or times of high humidity, which often coincides with the harvest of the spices, a solar dryer or sun drying can not be used effectively.

An artificial dryer, which uses a cheap energy source is necessary. This may be a wood or husk burning dryer or a combined wood burning and solar dryer. Figures 3-6 show a combined wood burning and solar drier which is based on the McDowell Dryer and has been used in Sri Lanka.

Figure 3: Combination wood and solar dryer, complete with solar cover

Figure 4: Wood burner and chimney

Figure 5: The food trays

Figure 6: The drying cabinet

Over drying

Care needs to be taken to prevent over drying of the crops which results in the loss of flavour components. A drier operator will soon learn how to assess the moisture content of the crops by hand. The final moisture content should be less than 10% wet basis.


In some cases the crop needs to be graded, eg high quality packaged products.

Pepper is graded by size, colour and relative density. Colour grading will have to be done by hand. Machines can be bought or made that will grade the pepper according to its size or relative density. However, a trained person with a winnowing basket is more appropriate for small-scale production.


Grinding may also add value but must be done carefully as there are difficulties. A whole, intact product can be easily assessed for quality whereas a ground product is more difficult. There is a market resistance to ground produce due to fear of adulteration. This can only be overcome by producing a consistently high quality product and gaining the confidence of customers. There are basically two types of grinders – manual grinders and mechanical grinders. A grinding mill has to be placed in a separate and well-ventilated room because of dust.

Manual grinding mills

There are many manual grinders that could be used to grind pepper.

An experienced operator can grind about 20kg in an eight-hour day. However, this is hard and boring work. A treadle or bicycle could easily be attached to the grinder, making the work easier. With this system one person could grind about 30kg in one day.

Work needs to be done to find out the degree of fineness the consumer wants. The grinding mills then need to be set so that they produce the desired ground product.

For small-scale production (up to 100kg/day, a series of these grinders is all that is needed. For larger scale production units, a mechanical grinder would be required.

Mechanical grinding mills

Horizontal plate, vertical plate or hammer mills are suitable for grinding pepper. A grinding mill has to be placed in a separate and well-ventilated room because of dust.

As above the grinding mill needs to be adjusted so that it grinds the pepper to the desired fineness.


Packaging material

Packaging of pepper especially if it is ground requires polypropylene. Polythene can not be used as the flavour components diffuse through it.

Simple sealing

The bags can be sealed simply by folding the polypropylene over a hacksaw blade and drawing it slowly over the flame of a candle. However, this extremely uncomfortable as the hacksaw blade heats up and can burn the hands of the operator. However, this is a very common technique.

Sealing machines

A sealing machine will speed this operation up considerably and produce a much tidier finish (which is very important).

The cheapest sealing machines have no timing mechanisms to show when the bag is sealed and they have a tendency to overheat.

Sealing machines with timers are desirable. The machines come in many sizes. For most work an 8 inch (20cm) sealer is sufficient. Eye catching labels should be sealed above the product in a separate compartment and holed so the package can be hung up in the shop.


A well designed and secure store is essential. The optimal conditions for a store are a low temperature, a low humidity and free from pests. The store should be located in a shaded, dry place. To keep humidity as low as possible only fully dried products should be stored in it. The produce should be checked regularly and if it has absorbed too much moisture it should be dried again.

To prevent rodents entering, the roof should be completely sealed. Mosquito netting should be placed over the windows and doors should be close fitting.


Pepper is often described as the “king of spices,” and it shares a place on most dinner tables with salt. The word pepper originated from the Sanskrit word pippali, meaning berry. Pepper is now grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Kampuchea as well as the West coast of India, known as Malabar, where it originated. The United States is the largest importer of pepper. India is still the largest exporter of the spice, and Brazil may be among the newest exporter of pepper.

Both black and white pepper come from the shrub classified as Piper nigrum. Piper nigrum is one of about 1,000 species in the Piper genus that is part of the larger family of peppers called Piperaceae. The various species of Piper are grown mostly as woody shrubs, small trees, and vines in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The Piper nigrum is a climbing shrub that grows to about 30 ft (9 m) tall through a system of aerial roots, but is usually pruned to 12 ft (3.66 m) in cultivation. Its flowers are slender, dense spikes with about 50 blossoms each. The berry-like fruits it produces become peppercorns; each one is about 0.2 in (5 mm) in diameter and contains a single seed. It is indigenous to southern India and Sri Lanka, and has been cultivated in other countries with uniformly warm temperatures and with moist soil conditions. Because the plant also likes shade, it is sometimes grown interspersed within coffee and tea plantations. Each plant may produce berries for 40 years.

The hot taste sensation in pepper comes from a resin called chavicine in the peppercorns. Peppercorns also are the source of other heat-generating substances, including an alkaloid called piperine, which is used to add the pungent effect to brandy, and an oil that is distilled from the peppercorns for use in meat sauces.

As a natural medicinal agent, black pepper in tea form has been credited for relieving arthritis, nausea, fever, migraine headaches, poor digestion, strep throat, and even coma. It has also been used for non-medical applications as an insecticide. Of course, black pepper is a favorite spice of cooks because of its dark color and pungent aroma and flavor.

White pepper is also commonly used and is popular among chefs for its slightly milder flavor and the light color that compliments white sauces, mayonnaise, souffles, and other light-colored dishes. White pepper is also true pepper that is processed in the field differently than its black form.

A mixture of black and white peppercorns is called a mignonette. Ground pepper is also popular in mixes of spices. A French spice blend called quartre epices consists of white pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and either nutmeg or mace. Kitchen pepper is called for in some recipes for sauces and includes salt, white pepper, ginger, mace, cloves, and nutmeg. Pepper, therefore, proves itself to be a versatile and essential ingredient in combination with other spices, as well as in solitary glory in the pepper mill.

Other species of peppers, such as P. Iongum, P. cubeba, and P. guineense, produce peppercorns that are used locally for medicinal purposes, or are made into oleoresins, essential oils, or used as an adulterant of black pepper. Berries of pepper trees from the genus Schinus, family Euphorbiaceae, are not true peppers, but are often combined with true peppercorns for their color, rather than their flavor. S. terebinthifolius is the source of pink peppercorns, but must be used sparingly, because they are toxic if eaten in large quantity.

Betel leaf (P. betel) chewing, practiced by the Malays of Malaysia and Indonesia, is as popular as cigarette smoking in that region. Chewing the leaves aids digestion, decreases perspiration, and increases physical endurance.

Bell, cayenne, and chili peppers are not members of the Piper genus. They are classified within the family Solanacene, commonly known as nightshades. Comprised of over 2,000 species, the nightshade family is indigenous to Central and South America, although many species have been cultivated worldwide. Common nightshade species include potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, tobacco, and petunia.


Pepper was an important part of the spice trade between India and Europe as early as Greek and Roman times. Pepper remained largely unknown in Western Europe until the Middle Ages. During that time, the Genoese and Venetians monopolized sea trade routes and, therefore, also monopolized sale of pepper and other spices.

Knowledge of pepper truly flowered during the European period of exploration that began in the late fifteenth century. Pepper grows in hot, humid conditions near sea level, so many of the areas where pepper grows were simply unknown to Europeans until seafaring, exploring, and empire-building began. In addition, European tastes favored the “sweet pot,” in which both sweet and savory ingredients were cooked in a single pot on the hearth. The spices used most often for this kind of cooking were nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, ginger, and cloves.

The pepper that was known in Europe from Roman times was the Piper longum (or long pepper) that is more aromatic and not so hot. Our familiar black pepper, or Piper nigrum, rose in popularity when the stove was introduced for cooking and sweet and savory foods could be prepared separately. Europeans valued pepper highly in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and pepper was often presented for gifts, rent, dowries, bribes, and to pay taxes.

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached India in 1497 and opened the trade route for pepper, among many other spices. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, and in the process, he made life complicated for pepper lovers. Columbus found a large and aromatic berry he dubbed “the Jamaican Pepper.” This berry is extensively used as a ground spice today, but it is called allspice. His second peppery discovery was the capsicum. Its large, mild-flavored versions come in red, yellow, and green varieties; and it also includes these three colors in fiery hot chili peppers. The capsicum peppers are not related to the pepper found in shakers and mills. Cayenne pepper is ground from dried capsicums, so it also is not a variety of the dried berry.

To add further to the confusion Columbus unwittingly unleashed, the Spanish word for pepper is pimento; so the small slivers of red pimento found in olives are red pepper pieces, and allspice is also known as Jamaican pimento. Allspice, as this version of its name states, has a fragrance that suggests a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and pepper. A few whole allspice berries added to the dinner-table pepper mill will spice up ground pepper.

Raw Materials

Peppercorns are the only raw material for both black and white pepper in any form. If the manufacturer produces green peppercorns, brine consisting of pure water, salt, and preservatives is used. Green peppercorns are also packed in vinegar; the vinegar or brine should be washed off the berries before the peppercorns are used in cooking.

The Manufacturing


  • 1 The pepper berries grow on bushes that are cultivated to heights of about 13 ft (4 m). If the berries were allowed to ripen fully, they would turn red; instead, they are harvested when they are green. Harvesting is done without any mechanical equipment. Women pick the unripened berries and transport them in large wicker baskets to drying platforms. The berries are spread on these large platforms to dry in the sun over a period of about a week and a half. In their dried state, the green berries blacken to become the peppercorns we use in pepper mills.
  • 2 Alternatively, the pepper berries can be picked just as they begin to turn red. They are plunged into boiling water for approximately 10 minutes, and they turn black or dark brown in an hour. The peppercorns are spread in the sun to dry for three to four days before they are taken to the factory to be ground. This process is quicker than airdrying alone but requires the added step of the boiling water bath.
  • 3 If white pepper is to be produced, the peppercorns are either stored in heaps after they have been boiled or they are harvested and packed in large sacks that are then lowered into running streams for seven to 15 days (depending on location). Bacterial action causes the outer husk of each peppercorn, called the pericarp, to break away from the remainder of the peppercorn. The berries are removed from the stream and placed in barrels partially immersed in water; workers trample the berries, much like stomping grapes, to agitate the peppercorns and remove any remaining husks. Some processors now use mechanical methods to grind off the outer coating to produce so-called decorticated pepper, but many exporters prefer the old-fashioned method.

In the factory

  • 4 Black and white pepper are processed in the factory by cleaning, grinding, and packaging. Blowers and gravity separators are used to remove dust, dirt clods, bits of twigs and stalk, and other impurities from the peppercorns after they are imported from the field. Sometimes, treatments are used to eliminate bacteria on the cleaned, dry peppercorns.
  • 5 Grinding consists of using a series of rollers in a process called cold roll milling to crush the peppercorns. Cracked peppercorns are only crushed lightly to bruise the peppercorns and release their flavor. Black pepper plant Piper nigrum.Black pepper plant Piper nigrum.Further grinding steps crush peppercorns into coarse and fine grinds of pepper that are packaged separately. A sifter sorts the grains by size, and they are conveyed to packaging stations. Packaging varies widely among processors and includes bags, boxes, and canisters for large-volume commercial sales and smaller jars, cans, and mills for home use. Packing may also include the blending of pepper with other spices in a variety of spice mixes for preparing sauces, cajun recipes, Italian foods, seafood, and a range of other specialized blends.

Quality Control

Because pepper is harvested by hand, quality control begins in the field with the careful observations of the harvesters. Bulk importation of peppercorns is monitored, as with all agricultural products, by government inspectors. In the factory, machinery used to process pepper is simple, and the processing is observed throughout.

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