Mar 7, 2023 | Explore Kampot

Kampot Pepper: What Makes It Special?

If you ask any diligent cook, they will tell you that freshly ground black pepper is important. Still, any authentic gourmet would tell you that nothing beats Kampot pepper. 

Chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain and Michelin-starred French chef Olivier Roellinger have found their way to the pepper grown in Cambodia’s Kampot province. The sea, soil, and climate combine perfectly, resulting in an extremely fragrant, subtle, and expensive spice. 

Cambodian chefs, French chefs, and spice connoisseurs the globe over have all appreciated this unique peppercorn kind for generations.

Green Kampot Pepper

Green Kampot Pepper

A Brief Background of Peppercorns in Cambodia

Native to southern India, black pepper (Piper nigrum) has been grown since at least 2,000 BC. Nevertheless, the precise date when pepper was first planted in Cambodia is unknown. 

Foreign merchants from Indonesia, the Netherlands, and France had significant roles in developing the pepper trade in Cambodia. French colonial influence in Cambodia and the country’s reputation for fine cuisine helped propel the Kampot pepper cultivar to prominence in the early 20th century. In those days, you couldn’t get a decent steak au poivre in Paris without ordering it from a fancy restaurant, and the only way to season it was with Kampot pepper.

In the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia, the country’s pepper harvest completely plummeted. Rather than growing peppercorns, farmers were coerced into producing crops. Not until pepper producers went back to their roots in the early 2000s was this pepper rescued from extinction. 

What Makes Kampot Pepper Special?

The foothills of the Dâmrei Mountains in the southern province of Kampot provide the ideal climate, altitude, and soil composition for agriculture. The environment is perfect for growing peppercorn vines, which produce the intense flavor and scent of berries. The peppercorns grown in Kampot, Cambodia, are often considered the finest in the world. If you have the chance to visit Kampot, here are one of the best things to do in Kampot.

Taste And Recognition

The French Appellation D’origine Contrôlée, which safeguards the identities of specialty foods like Champagne based on their origin, has been awarded to Kampot pepper for the first time. Kampot pepper farm was also designated a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Union in 2016. The high quality and fair price that farmers receive for their pepper is guaranteed by its protected status. 

Flavor And Aroma

One key factor that makes Kampot pepper special is its flavor and aroma. Unlike other pepper varieties, which can have a sharp or bitter taste, it has a complex spicy and floral flavor profile. It has a slightly sweet, fruity taste balanced with a subtle earthy flavor, making it a versatile ingredient in sweet and savory dishes.

It also has a unique aroma distinct from other types of pepper. Kampot pepper has a subtle, floral scent reminiscent of jasmine, making it a popular choice for perfumes and other fragrances.

Quality And Sustainability

Another factor that sets Kampot pepper apart is its quality and sustainability. The pepper is grown using traditional methods passed down through generations of farmers. The plants are cultivated without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, which helps preserve the natural ecosystem and maintain the soil’s fertility.

Additionally, Kampot pepper is hand-harvested and carefully sorted to ensure that only the highest quality berries are selected. The berries are sun-dried and stored in airtight containers to preserve their freshness and flavor.

Economic Development 

The production of Kampot pepper also provides a sustainable livelihood for the farmers in the region. Many of these farmers were affected by the Khmer Rouge regime and have struggled to rebuild their lives. Kampot pepper cultivation has helped provide them with a stable source of income and has contributed to the area’s economic development.

Types of Kampot Pepper 

red, black and white peppercorns

An array of red, black and white peppercorns produced at Kampot’s La Plantation.

There are four types of pepper grown in Kampot, each with its own unique flavor and characteristics: the green pepper, which can only be harvested fresh in Kampot, and three dried varieties.

Green Kampot Pepper 

Green peppercorns are only available fresh during April and May due to harvesting. They are commonly cooked with meat or shellfish. Once plucked from the plant, fresh pepper cannot be kept for a long time. However, its lifespan can be prolonged by pickling or being preserved in salt. 

Black Kampot Pepper 

Black Kampot pepper, known for its intense spiciness and depth of flavor, rose to prominence during the French colonial era and has maintained its reputation to this day. Very robust pepper with tastes that can’t be found in any other pepper. Producing black pepper requires picking berries while they’re completely mature but still green, then drying them in the sun. Yet, the black Kampot peppercorns are notably earthier and more piney while retaining these qualities.

Red Kampot Pepper

Particularly noteworthy are red Kampot peppercorns. Some of the berries in the peppercorn clusters will begin to turn red just before they are ready to be picked. The pepper berry’s delicious, sugary taste is at its peak at this time. These bright red berries are picked at the peak of ripeness and then sun-dried. Only the best dark red berries are chosen for this exceptional grade. Thus we only have a limited supply available this season. 

Once you tear a bag of Kampot red peppercorns, it will release a scent of peppery, sweet, and fragrant, like dried apricots. To unleash the powerful pepper scent, twist your pepper mill. This aroma has enticing fresh berry, pine, and citrus-peel undertones.

Kampot White Pepper 

Soaking mature berries in water for 48 hours softens the berry, allowing the skin and flesh to be easily peeled away, revealing the naturally white peppercorn seed. White Kampot pepper is a favorite among elite chefs because it can enhance the flavor of a meal without dominating it with the strong pepper fruit flavors of black or red peppercorns, making it ideal for use when cooking dishes with a subtler flavor profile.

Food Preparation with Best Kampot Pepper 

Kampot black pepper is a delicacy on the dinner plate, much like a savory finishing salt. (An excellent pepper mill is a must-have.) Because of its scarcity, Kampot pepper is typically saved for dishes showcasing its unique flavor. Amazing dishes that include this spice include steak au poivre, sauteed crab, Kampot seafood and pepper, and Cambodian beef salad. Sweet meals like freshly sliced fruit, dark chocolate, or vanilla ice cream pair wonderfully with this pepper. 

Black pepper, a beloved spice that complements many others, is widely used and appreciated. Combining it with ginger, turmeric, star anise, tamarind, lemongrass, and cardamom will give it a more authentic Cambodian taste. The use of dipping sauces is also common in Cambodian food preparation.  

Facts About Organic And Fair-Trade Black Peppercorns from Kampot, Cambodia 

Natural and ethically sourced products Kampot black peppercorns are grown traditionally and harvested by hand in Cambodia. Kampot, Cambodian peppercorns have been considered the best in the world for decades. European merchants brought the pepper to chefs across the continent, who found their customers raved about its bold, rich flavor and complex aroma. 

A Geographical Indications Certificate has been issued to the region for its organically cultivated Kampot Pepper (GI). Its labeling is analogous to Champagne or Roquefort cheese, both of which may only be considered “real” if made in their respective regions. Kampot’s fertile soil and position between the mountains and the sea are responsible for the pepper’s distinctive flavor. The pepper has a lively, clean taste with hints of cocoa and is not too hot. 

When not in use, store in a dark, cool place away from sources of heat and light for maximum freshness.


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