Pepper (Piper nigrum) is a climbing vine in the Piperacae family, a large family of ﬂowering plants that also includes betel. The berries of the plant are a spice considered as a primary crop by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The Khmer word for pepper is mrech, which is believed to be derived from maricha, a Sanskrit term for the spice which is native to southern India. The ﬁfth edition of Samdech Chuon Nath’s authoritative dictionary of the Khmer language published in 1967 stated that most pepper production in Cambodia was in Kampot Province
According to retired Cambodian pharmacist Kham Lavit, the author of Cambodia’s Medicinal Plants published in 2004, Chinese imports of pepper from an ancient Khmer kingdom can be traced back to the Liu Song Dynasty in southern China (420-479). Pepper and other spices from the Khmer kingdom “were not only value for their ﬂavour, but for their medicinal properties as well,” the pharmacist wrote. “There was a large establishment in the southern Chinese market to display these products, where they traded with other parts of the world."
Kampot Pepper with protected geographical indication status comprises two varieties — a big leaf variety known locally as "Kamchay" and a small leaf variety called "Lampong"
Agence Française de Développement supported the application for protected geographic indication status for Kampot Pepper. In 2004, AFD launched a EUR 1 million project to recognise Kampot Pepper and Kampong Speu Palm Sugar under the EU scheme.
The application for EU recognition was made by the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association, registered with the Ministry of Interior in 2009. The association’s has partnerships with the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, a French non-governmental organisation known as Gret and the Cambodian Institute for Research and Rural Development.
Two documents supported the application. One was a report by the FAO from 1968 which referred to the production method for pepper in Kampot and its superior quality to pepper from other parts of Cambodia such as Kampong Cham. The second report — by the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and French non-government organisation known as Centre d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC) — compared production methods in Kampot in southwest Cambodia to districts in two provinces in the east. These were Memot District (formerly in Kampong Cham Province, now part of the new province of Tboung Khmum) and Snoul District (in Kratie Province).
In Kampot, plantations for Kampot Pepper must be located in rocky or sandy lateritic soil in small hills or below mountains or otherwise in well-drained foothills or plateaus sloping downwards. Pepper vines have to be planted on poles at least 1.8 metres apart. Locations for adding natural fertilisers and new soil must be visible and the vines have to be provided with shade until they are at least three years old.
KAMPOT GREEN PEPPER
The Kampot Green Pepper is harvested as whole clusters of fresh berries at any time of the year. The berries can be marketed and consumed fresh, or pickled in brine or vinegar. Fresh green pepper can be used for up to seven days after harvest whereas pickled green pepper can be used for up to one year after processing.
KAMPOT BLACK PEPPER
The Kampot Black Pepper is harvested when the berries start ripening and turning yellow between the early part of the dry season and the early wet season (from January 1 until May 31). The pepper is harvested cluster by cluster or berry by berry. Freshly picked berries or dried peppercorns can be cleaned in water for up to ﬁve minutes. Whole black pepper can be used for up to three years after harvest whereas ground black pepper can be used for up to one year.
KAMPOT RED PEPPER
The Kampot red pepper is the region’s flagship product. It is harvested during the same period as Kampot black pepper but limited to fully ripe berries that are red. The red berries that develop powerful fruit aromas are selected during harvesting berry by berry or post-harvest sorting. The difficulty in harvesting fully mature berries mean red pepper is rarer than green or black pepper. Its unique taste, less spicy than the black pepper, has sweet notes of red fruit and honey. Red pepper can be used for up to three years after harvest.
KAMPOT WHITE PEPPER
The Kampot White Pepper is produced by soaking ripe red berries in boiling water for no more than ﬁve minutes and letting the berries soak in cool water for no more than 48 hours. The outer layer of the berries is then removed to produce the white pepper which can be used for up to three years after harvest.