FELFEL (arabicized from archaic Pers. pelpel < Skt. pippalī, which designated both the vine and the berries of Piper longum L. “Indian long pepper”; Monier-Williams, p. 628), modern Persian term designating the fruits and/or berries of two botanically different groups of plants: the pepper proper and the capsicum peppers (Rosengarten, pp. 128-47, 352-65).
1. Felfel-e sīāh (lit. black pepper) designates the common black pepper, Piper nigrum L. (fam. Piperaceae). The whitish felfel-e safīd (lit. white pepper) is just hulled (black) peppercorns (dāna-ye felfel). The so-called long pepper, P. longum (from the same family), with elongated spikes that are ground whole to produce a condiment less pungent than the common pepper, is called felfel-e hendī (Indian pepper), felfel-e derāz (long pepper) in the past, and dār-felfel (tree pepper; e.g., Heravī, p. 154, Tonokābonī, p. 373). Both black and long peppers were of Indian origin (Rosengarten, p. 352; concerning the old trade routes of pepper to and through Persia, see Bāstānī PāFELFELrīzī). The root of the long pepper was called felfel-mūl/-mūr/-mūy (a)/-mūna (< Hind^ pippalī-mūla < Skt. pippalā-mūl, lit. “long pepper root”; Platts, s. v.) in classical Persian medico-pharmacological works (e. g., Heravī, p. 246 n.; Bīrūnī, p. 468; ʿAqīlī, pp. 661-66).
Black pepper is the most commonly used “hot” (garm) spice in Persia. According to the latest published statistics (Gomrok , p. 11), in 1372 Š./1993-94 a total of 467,754 kg of black pepper, worth $543,045, was imported from the United Arab Emirates, Sharja, and South Korea (serving only as trade intermediaries). In the past, many Galenic medicinal properties were attributed to felfel, all derived from its “hot and dry” nature (“in the third degree,” according to Heravī, p. 243; “in the fourth degree,” according to Donayserī, p. 111). The felfel-mūl, less potent, considered “hot and dry in the second degree,” was used as a substitue (badal) for the long pepper (Heravī, p. 246; Bīrūnī, p. 468; for the most detailed account in Persian of the medicinal uses of pepper, see ʿAqīlī, pp. 658-60). Nowadays, pepper is medicinally used only as a stimulant and as a “hot” simple to be added to one’s food (cf. its Māzandarānī name garmārī/garm(-e) dārī “warm drug”).
Pepper was believed to have magic virtues. Jamālī Yazdī mentions white pepper as an ingredient of a compound incense to be burned in a ritual for invoking the planet Venus to grant one’s wishes (p. 367). Šams-al-Dīn Donayserī, reporting “the nature and temperament of the seven planets,” attributes to “the great sinister” Saturn several simples, including pelpel, alum (zāj), and myrobalan (halīla; p. 51). Eʿteżād-al- Salṭana reports (p. 74) that, in areas where oak trees and pepper vines grow, people believe that if these plants bear a lot of fruit, that year will have a long winter. Ṣādeq Hedāyat (p. 29) reports the custom of boiling vinegar, qalyāb (sodium or potassium carbonate), and white pepper in a coffeepot during the ceremonies of marriage contract (ʿaqd). Henri Massé (Croyances II, p. 312; tr., p. 302) reports the belief that “if you pour pepper between two persons who are quarreling, their quarrel will get worse.”
2. Felfel(-e)farangī/derāz (European/long pepper), etc., various kinds of capiscum (fam. Solanaceae), originally from South America, are cultivated in Persia. Long, slender, pungent varieties of Capsicum frutescens L. (cf. chili pepper, cayenne pepper, etc.), when green (felfel-esabz/toršī “green/pickling pepper”), are used as vegetables and especially for pickling; the red variety (felfel-e hendī/qermez “Indian/red pepper”) is used, whole or ground, as condiment. The felfel-e dolmaʾī (pepper for stuffing) is said of large, mild-tasting, somewhat rounded varieties of C. annuum L., used, when green, as a vegetable or, especially, for stuffing (dolma-ye felfel; see DOLMA). Several varieties of capsicum peppers are cultivated in Persia for domestic use only (Ṭabāṭabāʾī, pp. 397-407). According to The Customs Administration (Gomrok-e Īrān), “felfel-e qermez” (probably referring to exotic products such as chili and cayenne powder; Gomrok, p. 11) is imported, too; the data for 1372 Š./1993-94 are: 15,921 kg, worth $56,544.00, imported from the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Singapore.
Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-adwīa, Calcutta, 1844.
M.-E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, “Felfel-e rū-sīāh-e rāhnavard,” in idem, Bāzīgarān-e kāḵ-e sabz, Qom, 1374 Š./1995, pp. 209-356.
Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana fi’l-ṭebb, ed. ʿA. Zaryāb Ḵoʾī, Terhan, 1370 Š./1991.
Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Ayyūb Donayserī, Nawāder al-tabādor le toḥfat al-bahādor, ed. M.-T. Dānešpažūh and Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.
ʿAlīqolī Mīrzā Eʿteżād-al-Salṭana, Falak al-saʿāda, Tehran, 1278/1861-62.
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Ṣ. Hedāyat, Neyrangestān, Tehran, 2nd ed., 1334 Š./1955.
Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq(-al-Dīn) ʿAlī Heravī, Ketāb al-abnīa ʿan ḥaqāyeq al-adwīa, ed. A. Bahmanyār and Ḥ. Maḥbūbī Ardakānī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.
Abū Bakr Moṭahhar Jamālī Yazdī, Farroḵ-nāma, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.
Massé, Croyances; tr. C. A. Messner as Persian Beliefs and Customs, New Haven, 1954.
M. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Oxford, new ed., 1979.
J. T. Platts, A Dictionary of Urdū, Classical Hindī, and English, Oxford, repr. 1982.
F. Rosengarten, Jr., The Book of Spices, Wynnewood, Penn., 1969.
M. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Gīāh-šenāsī-e kārbordī barā-ye kešāvarzī o manābeʿ-e ṭabīʿī. I: Gīāhān-e zerāʿathā-ye bozorg, Tehran, 1365 Š./1986.
Moḥammad-Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī (Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn (Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Tehran, 1360 Š./1981.
Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: January 24, 2012
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Vol. IX, Fasc. 5, pp. 483-484