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Notes of red wine and nutmeg? This black pepper is an epiphany

Aranya pepper from Diaspora Co.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Last week I was messaging with my friend Deno, who lives in San Francisco and was a chef in a previous life. We were texting about how much we were cooking, and somehow we rolled the subject around to peppercorns and I mentioned the spice brand Diaspora Co. He hadn’t heard of it. Go look up the black pepper they sell, I urged him.

“I see the comments for the pepper say things like ‘aromatic as ----,’” he shot back.

That Diaspora Co. was new to him was a good reminder that my job can make me myopic. I’d assumed all food obsessives like Deno already knew about the company and that I was the one late to the party, having bought my first jar of peppercorns (already gone) a few months back from DTLA Cheese. I’m now a believer.

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Sana Javeri Kadri founded the company in 2017 with the goal of decolonizing the modern spice trade and empowering farmers across India. She drew swift praise for the heirloom turmeric, grown in Andhra Pradesh, that she introduced to the American market. It is amazing stuff, with a mustardy aroma that has far more flavor presence than any turmeric I’ve cooked with.

The black pepper, though. It is harvested by hand on a family farm in Thirunelly, an inland village in Kerala, the southwestern state that is one of the world’s lushest and most startlingly beautiful spice regions. I took the lid off the jar and it smelled like — Zinfandel and nutmeg? Wild.

Aranya pepper from Diaspora Co.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

The last pepper grinder I owned broke a couple of years ago; since then I’ve just bought those jars from the grocery store with the built-in grinder. So I pulverized these peppercorns using a small mortar and pestle (a recommended act for managing emotions in dark times) and wow, the taste was peppery but also extra-ripe-strawberry fruity, and with some actual heat on the tongue.

Morning soft-scrambles in our household are now aggressively speckled with pepper. So are the dinnertime rice dishes.

It’s a small but true joy to change my relationship with a common spice I’d so taken for granted. Reminds me to stop and consider other things (people, privileges) I’ve undervalued. Also, it feels good to support a proudly queer woman running a California-based business: Javeri Kadri moved from India to the Bay Area for college and made it her home. Many people on at least two continents are better for it. Give Diaspora Co.’s spices a try.

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