The Scent of Black Gold

By Jo Phillips

A riddle authored by Saint Aldhelm, a seventh-century Bishop of Sherborne, sheds some light on this spices role in England at that time (639 – 25 May 709). For us, its everyday use belives the fact that it has travelled far and wide to reach our tables and in fact was so valuable at first that it was used as a currency:-

I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,
Yet within I bear a burning marrow.
I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
But you will find in me no quality of any worth,

He is of course talking of the humble, or not-so-humble Peppercorn.

Image on left Abi Perkins

Is pepper a fruit or a spice? Why was it once so valuable that people used it as currency?  The history of Pepper goes back 4000 years and the demand for it has had a tremendous impact on the shaping of modern civilization. Before the oil, the term “black gold” referred to Pepper. And finally, how did it end up in perfumery?

It originates from Southern India and belongs to climbing plants which are grown for their fruit that gives us the spice, Pepper. It is because it has seeds that it is considered a fruit.

The first records of Pepper date back to 2000 years BC when it was mentioned in ancient Indian writings, and Peppercorns were found in the nostrils of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.

In these times with the absence of a toothbrush and toothpaste, people used spices, such as Pepper to remove or at least reduce bad breath, because of its strong flavour and perceived antiseptic properties.

Over the centuries, Pepper demand grew and costs added up as logistically it had to come all the way from India hence a high price, initially driven by the Romans. From the collapse of Rome into the Dark Ages the spice trade moved eastward, taken over by the Empire known as Byzantium. Next came the turn of the Italian cities Venice and Genoa with merchants from Alexandria exporting 400 tons of black Pepper per year to Venice. Next on the trail came the Ottoman Empire.

Later on, Christopher Columbus managed to persuade the Spanish royal couple Izabela I and Ferdinand II, to finance his journey to search East India by sailing west, therefore, finding Pepper routes but the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gamma began the Portuguese dominance of the Pepper trade. Thus, the Portuguese king Manuel had taken the right to have a monopoly over the trade, with the French king Francois I called him “le Roi épicier”, meaning “the grocer king”.

Then came to Dutch, who lost out eventually to the British as new trade routes appeared so prices fell and it became available in many regional and national cuisines. It was ultimately the British with their trade routes that helped to export it around the world.

However, it did take a French chef to expound in a cookbook that no meal was complete without both Salt and Pepper.

Black pepper is obtained by picking green grains, and then without any processing drying them in the sun. In perfumery, the not-quite-ripe peppercorns of the Piper nigrum vine are dried, crushed and steam-distilled to create an intensely-fragrant oil. It is important to note here though that only white and black Peppers are the same, as pink Peppercorns are from a completely different plant.

Pepper is one of those ingredients in fragrance that takes a skilled pair of hands to bring out its multi-faceted qualities. Yes, it has a warm, piquant, aromatic, dry, spicy side yet find green elements even citrus, wood and an evergreen part. Partly because of this it mixes as a partner to many an ingredient and was often used in men’s perfumes.

Pepper has been used in modern perfumes since the early 1900s in such luminary fragrances as Houbigant Quelque Fleurs by Robert Bienaimé,  Lanvin Arpege by André Fraysse and Caron’s “Urn Fountain Fragrance”

In the late 70s and 1980’s it really began to become popular since its early recognition at the beginning to mid-century with perfumes like Ginza, by Shiseido in 1975. Key pepper fragrances in the last 30 years include Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Poivre Piquant by Bertrand Duchaufour or Blackpepper by Comme des Garcons.

The latest exploration of pepper in fragrance and again here its Black Pepper is Poivre Noir by the dignitary of scents, Serge Lutens.

An uncompromising, genius who was one of the very first niche perfume companies that choose to explore scent in its rich emotive power, as well as using the very best ingredients that spoke to his heart has explored here Madagascar Black Pepper as his main attraction.

Think intense, hot, and spicy uniqueness, stripped back to reveal its facets earthy spicey, but at the same time comforting with its heat almost like a soft blanket on a cool night as it is a well-known scent to many of us. Other notes hint at a warm spice note of Nutmeg and soft clean Cedarwood to round off the fragrance giving it a heady sexy finale.

Part of the Noire Collection, Poivre Noir is yet another masterpiece to add to his scent wardrobe.

Find out everything you want to know about Serge Lutens at his website Here and directly to Poivre Noir Here

If you enjoyed reading The Scent of Black Gold, then why not read Nothing but the Marvellous is Beautiful Here

.Cent magazine London, Be Inspired; Get Involved.

Verified by MonsterInsights