Pepper in Cambodia has a centuries’ long history. A Chinese explorer has described pepper production in Cambodia as early as the 13th century.
When in the 19th century war erupted in the Aceh province of Indonesia, the sultan ruling the area – not wanting to leave this wealth in the hands of the Dutch – burned down his pepper plantation.
Part of the production then moved to Cambodia, in the Kampot region.
Decline and renaissance
The fame of Cambodian pepper started when the French occupied the country. At the height of it’s popularity no restaurant in Paris would serve anything but Kampot pepper.
Cambodia’s pepper industry went into a major decline during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970’s, and the following years of civil war and unrest. Today it’s experiencing a renaissance as the country reopens to the world.
Kampot Pepper is grown naturally following the essential principles of organic agriculture in soil building and conservation, pest management, and heritage-species preservation. Currently Kampot pepper has been awarded a Geographical Indications (GI) certification.
Peppercorn vines are extremely sensitive to sunlight, so you often will see them protected from the harsh rays by rows of dried palm branches. A pepper vine can live for more than 30 years but its productivity starts decreasing after 15 years and is almost nil after 20 years.
Harvest takes place from February to May. Peppercorns are removed from the stem, boiled for two minutes, and then left to dry in the sun for one week.
There are different varieties of Kampot pepper, ranging from intensely spicy to mildly sweet. Black peppercorns are actually green when harvested, but they change color during the drying process. White peppercorns are simply black pepper with the skin removed, and aren’t as spicy. The red peppercorns are green peppercorns that have been left on the vine for four months longer. They retain their color when dried and are the sweetest and most expensive, because they take longer to mature.
Visit a pepper farm
Want to visit a pepper farm in the Kampot region? Here are some suggestions: