Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
As a food enthusiast and a lover of adventure, I have always been fascinated by the diversity of flavors and spices that exist around the world. Recently, I had the opportunity to embark on a journey to Penja, a village in Cameroon known for its unique and flavorful pepper.
In this blog post, I will share my experience of exploring the Penja pepper fields with the Douala Accueil Association, an organization part of an international network, committed to participating in the integration and facilitating the installation of families arriving in Douala, through cultural activities, outings, meetings, sharing of good plans.
Introduction to Penja Pepper
Penja pepper is a rare and highly sought-after spice that is grown exclusively in the Penja valley of Cameroon. This pepper is known for its distinctive flavor and aroma, which is a result of the unique soil and climate conditions of the Penja region. The production of Penja pepper is a delicate process that requires a great deal of care and attention to detail. To ensure that the pepper maintains its exceptional quality, the local farmers use only natural and sustainable farming methods.
The journey to Penja with Douala Accueil Association
Our journey to Penja began early in the morning. The Douala Accueil Association had arranged for a group of us to travel together in a comfortable van or with our personal car. As we drove through the winding roads of Cameroon, we were treated to a beautiful view of the countryside. The ride was bumpy at times, but the excitement of discovering the Penja pepper fields kept us all energized.
After two hours of driving, we finally arrived at the Penja valley. The scenery was breathtaking, with lush green hills and banana fields stretching as far as the eye could see. We were greeted by our guide, a technician working for the plantation, who welcomed us warmly and showed us around the nursery and pepper fields.
NB: For a better understanding of the pepper crop, I strongly recommend you to read the article I wrote about it.
Exploring the Penja pepper fields
We first visited the nursery where the young sprouts of pepper trees grow. There are several ways to reproduce pepper plants. Cutting a piece of vine and planting the stolons is one of them. This method is the preferable way to do it as it conserves all the organoleptic characteristics of the adult the stolon comes from.
Every new leaf the runner grows, operators repot the plant. This operation repeats until the sixth leaf unfolds. The “baby” pepper generating a new leaf every month, the technicians finally transfer the plant to its final field six months after the first planting.
As we walked through the fields, our guide explained to us the challenges they face in producing Penja pepper. They told us that the weather conditions can be unpredictable, and that pests and diseases can easily destroy the crops. They also explained us that the pepper plant needs heat and light but is grown away from direct sunlight in humus-rich, cool, deep, and drained soil.
These requirements explain why they usually associates the pepper plants and their stake to the banana trees. It is to protect the young plants from the harsh and direct sunlight. Once the pepper plant has grown enough, farmers cut the banana trees, giving enough space for the pepper plant and its living stake to develop and mature fully for roughly sixty years in organic farming, less if grown with conventional farming practices including the usage of crop protection products.
We all understood that the pepper crop needs much care and attention. However, we all agreed that the hard work and dedication required to produce this exceptional spice is well worth it.
The Penja pepper production process
After exploring the fields, we had the opportunity to witness the Penja pepper production process firsthand. The technician demonstrated how they dry and sort the pepper. We were amazed to see how much care and attention goes into the production of this spice. The guide explained that they use traditional methods to ensure that the pepper retains its unique flavor and aroma.
We also learned about the challenges that the producers face in marketing their products and the importance of being a protected geographical indication (PGI).
Red, green, black, or white; our guide also explained the different types of pepper. In fact, it is not about the species of pepper grown. Instead, it is about when farmers harvest it and how they process it afterward. Here is a small summary to understand better the difference between the different kinds of pepper (more details in this article, the information coming from Max Daumin’s website).
The berries are picked green before they mature. They are still waterlogged and very fragile. Most of the time, they are soaked in brine to preserve them. It is delicate to dry green pepper and to keep its stability, hence the scarcity of dry green pepper.
It is a pepper with vegetal notes, pronounced herbaceous. He is aerial. Slightly less spicy than black pepper, it is perfect for sauces, meats, and fish.
This is the green pepper that is picked just before the berries turn yellow. It is allowed to air dry after being scalded and washed in water. By oxidizing in the air, it turns black naturally. All the care taken by the producer at this stage is essential. It will define the aromatic qualities of the pepper without denaturing them.
Black pepper still retains its vegetal notes from its green stage but benefits from more power and heat. It will go perfectly with meats but also with all your cooking.
This is a pepper that is picked when fully ripe. It is delicate; we choose the red beans just before they deteriorate. These are the late harvest of pepper. It is thus found more rarely due to its harvesting process.
Like grapes, red pepper is an almost sweet pepper. It has notes of raisins and pleasant hay. Its intensity has decreased compared to green and black pepper. It is ideal for white meats, vegetables, fish, desserts, pastries, and fruit.
This is red pepper from which the skin is removed. The grains are rubbed vigorously to remove the skin from the peppercorn (pericarp). The producer’s operation brings an aromatic expression different from the red pepper.
It is a red pepper combining power and sweetness but with more animal notes. It is suitable for delicate dishes.
The unique flavor and aroma of Penja pepper
The highlight of our trip to Penja was definitely the opportunity to taste the Penja pepper. We were all excited to try this highly acclaimed spice, and we were not disappointed. The flavor was bold and complex, with a hint of citrus and a subtle heat that lingered on the tongue. We could taste the care and attention that had gone into producing this exceptional spice.
As we savored the Penja pepper, we were reminded of the importance of supporting local producers and sustainable agriculture. By buying products like Penja pepper, we can help to ensure that small-scale farmers receive compensation for their hard work and that the environment is protected from harmful farming practices.
On the way back
Usually, in Cameroon, people love driving back to their homes from the countryside. It is the opportunity for them to stop on the road and buy fruits, vegetables, or palm oil directly from the producers at a lower price, helping by the same occasion the producer himself to get better margins. We did not make any exception. We too, stopped on the road (and not only once …).
It was an excellent opportunity for everybody to buy delicious mangoes, bananas, and other fruits as the season is at its fullest in the Penja region. After filling the trunk of our cars with our precious cargo and making them look like supermarkets, we drove peacefully back to Douala, satisfied with this beautiful excursion that was about to end.
This journey to Penja with the Douala Accueil Association was an unforgettable experience. We had the opportunity to explore a beautiful region of Cameroon and to learn about the unique and delicate process of producing Penja pepper. We were inspired by the dedication and hard work of the local farmers, and we were reminded of the importance of supporting sustainable agriculture and fair trade practices.
As consumers, we have the power to make a positive impact on the world by choosing products that are produced sustainably and ethically. By supporting local producers like those in the Penja region, we can help to ensure that people and the planet are treated with respect and dignity. So the next time you’re looking for a new spice to add to your kitchen, consider trying Penja pepper and supporting sustainable agriculture in Cameroon.