Kampot Pepper

If someone has heard of Kampot, Cambodia, it’s likely because of Kampot pepper. Kampot province is rich in salt and pepper cultivation, and has been praised so highly that in the early 1900s it was said that any table in Paris worth their salt would have Kampot pepper.

We’ve had delicious stir-fries with Kampot pepper while in Cambodia, and acquiring some to take home was firmly on my agenda for our day of exploring. But I didn’t want to just get some dodgy gift bag of unknown provenance. On our little Kampot map I saw an item marked “Kampot Farm Link”. It was away from the main drag; not far from the Kampot Prison, we took a right down a dirt alley and came upon a little house with pallets of black pepper drying in the 35C-degree sun:

Kampot Farm Link

Kampot black pepper drying in the sun

Kampot black pepper

A young girl who didn’t speak any English motioned for us to wait a few minutes and disappeared. A few minutes later a man drove up in a motorbike and invited us inside. This Kampot Farm Link building serves mainly as a sorting, packaging, and distribution facility for pepper. We got the sense that tourists don’t usually make it over here. Our host, Sok Lim, was very friendly and was excited to explain to us the entire process from cultivation to drying to packaging.

We learned that there are four types of pepper: green, white, red, and black. Green pepper is the fresh fruit of the pepper vine used in restaurants in Cambodia and southern Thailand to make the aforementioned delicious stir-fries; it’s not available for export, as it will go bad within a week.

The other three types are dried variations of the same pepper plant, and Sok let us sample each type of peppercorn so that we could taste the difference. Black pepper is the most common form produced, and what we saw outside of the facility. Red pepper is dried using the same process as black pepper, but the peppercorns are sourced from the smaller, more intense peppercorns at the top of the plant. As a result, red pepper is rarer, spicier (and pricier) than black pepper. Finally, white pepper is black pepper that has been soaked in water until the black husk is dissolved. White pepper has a softer flavor and doesn’t linger as long on the palate.

The pepper from Kampot Farm Link is hand-sorted, and only the highest quality corns are used. Sok gave us examples of export vs. non-export quality corns. The export-quality ones are larger, richer in color, and almost perfectly round. He then demoed the packaging process. Once separated, the peppercorns are weighed, put into 100g, 500g, or 1kg bags, and vacuum sealed by an impressive piece of machinery (unfortunately it was too dark for a clean picture).

Quality control
Quality control

We also learned that right now more “Kampot pepper” is sold than the Kampot region produces, and there is a lot of fraud in this market. The Cambodian government is trying to combat this, and is working on getting its first origin-specific label (GI, or geographical indications) for pepper from Kampot province. Then, just like Champagne in France, it would be illegal to market any other type of pepper as “Kampot pepper”.

While there’s not much in the way of retail presence here, they do allow for direct sales, and we acquired some of each type of pepper. We also picked up a recipe card for Kampot Peppercorn Ice Cream that we’ll have to try after we return to Seattle.

Buying Kampot pepper in Kampot
Picture of my pepper purchases

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