The Humble Peppercorn – Kep, Cambodia

It’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these, and as we’re being nomadic, I figured it was time to do another Where It’s Made post.  This time, I will cover the humble peppercorn.

The Humble Peppercorn Kep Cambodia

Let’s face it:  Pepper doesn’t get much respect.  It’s common.  I’ve heard even called banal.  It’s on practically every dinner table, and it always plays second-fiddle to it’s cousin condiment, salt.  But have you ever wondered where this remarkable spice comes from?  If you have, then great, continue reading.  If you’re not so interested in the amazing spice that is pepper, then you still have to keep reading!  My website, my rules.

The Humble Peppercorn

“Sa-pepper” by Sanjay ach – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons Sa-pepper.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sa-pepper.jpg

I’ve been a fan of pepper for a long time, and even made some of my own peppercorn mixes when I was single.  (Maybe that’s why I was single…)  It was only when we were in Chiang Mai that my fascination with pepper was renewed.  I had ordered a chicken dish with pepper, and while when it arrived, I did not see any evidence of pepper.  I saw chicken, and this:

Unripened Pepper

It was a spicy dish, but I didn’t immediately connect the dots, until it dawned on me, “Hey, that must be pepper!”.  While we were visiting Kep Cambodia, Heidi had researched and found when we visited Kep, we would be in the land of pepper.  She reached out to see if they had accommodation or volunteer opportunities.  As it was just a couple of days prior to our arrival, she didn’t get a reply in time.  However, the accommodation we did book was close to Sothy’s Pepper Farm.  Well, we just had to see what it was all about, so with our rented scooters (yippee!), we made the 15 kilometer trek to the hills of the Kampot province, and met with the guy who owns the farm.

Once we arrived, we were welcomed by one of the workers (I don’t remember his name), and he asked us where we were from, and how we liked Kep.  We gave him all of the details, and he launched into his discussion of the various types of Kampot Pepper that are found in Cambodia, and how they grow it at the farm.

Sothy's Pepper Farm Kep Cambodia

There are four types of pepper grown in Cambodia:

  • Green – This is the raw, unripened fruit.  You typically won’t see dried green peppercorns as they change color once they are cooked and dried.  Once cooked and dried, the green peppercorns turn black.  If you do find dried green peppercorns, they have been most likely treated with sulfur dioxide, canning, or even freeze-drying.
  • Black – Green peppercorns are briefly cooked in hot water, and then dried in the sun (or in a machine).  Once dried, the exterior becomes a dark brown, or black peppercorn, and those are what you normally see in stores.
  • Red – The red peppercorn is commonly preserved in brine and vinegar.
  • White – The white peppercorns are typically peppercorns with the exterior skin removed.  They undergo a process where they are soaked in water for approximately a week.  This softens and disintegrates the skin so that it is easily removed.  White pepper is used in recipes when a more subtle pepper flavor is required.

Pretty cool, right?!  The farm uses all natural growing methods, and they have 12 foot posts on which they grow the pepper.

Sothy's Pepper Farm Kep Cambodia - tall trees

All told, they have approximately 800 plants on this farm, along with some mango, durian, banana and a few others. As we were being educated about all that is pepper, he told us to take a taste.  We all found a suitably sized group of peppercorns, and tasted.  They had a super concentrated peppery taste!  (What did you expect?)  They also had a very strong aftertaste that was with me for quite some time.

Kep Cambodia Pepper Farm

I didn’t know you could eat the pepper like this.  As we were finishing up the tour, a tall older German man (he kind of looked like Gandalf), came up to Heidi, and asked her if she was in fact Heidi.  It turns out this was Norbert Klein, and he was the one who had been corresponding with Heidi about the prospect of us staying on his farm for a week.  As this is a working farm, he has tourists stay for a week at his cottage, and help his staff out with tending the pepper plants.

Sothy's Pepper Farm Cottage Kep Cambodia

Right off the bat, you could tell Norbert was very proud of the farm.  While his wife technically owns the farm (she is Cambodian), they have both been operating it for only a couple of years, but they’ve expanded production greatly, and export their product across the globe.  The cottage was very simple, but had a beautiful view of the surrounding valley.  I imagine that it would be a very relaxing place to stay at the end of a day working in the fields.

Kep Cambodia Sothy's Pepper Farm

It was a great tour, and a nice little getaway from Kep.  We had to take a group photo with Norbert and his staff member before we left.

Anya and I raced (not really) Heidi and Lars back to hotel and won (of course) before sunset.  And for our dinner, the pepper we used on our meal somehow tasted just a little bit better now that we know Where It’s Made.

A Fantastic Cambodian Recipe – I found an amazing dish that uses a pepper sauce.  The dish is called Lok Lak, and it is positively yummy.  What makes this dish so great is the pepper sauce that is used on the side.  There are a number of recipes on the internet, but the ingredients are few, and it’s easy to make:

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed back pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1/4 of a lime (squeeze the juice in the above ingredients)

That’s it!  You can use this on chicken, beef, or even pork.

Contact Info:
Sothy’s Pepper Farm
Phone: +855 088 9513505
Contact:  E-Mail:

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This entry was posted in Cambodia, Food, Where it’s Made and tagged , , , , , , by Alan Wagoner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Alan Wagoner

Alan digs on technology and travel and is definitely the comic in the family. He's traveled all over the globe in search of cultural experiences. He has a fantastic wife and two great children that put up with his "humor", and luckily they all love travel as well. In Aug 2012, they sold their house and all of their possessions and moved to Spain to soak up the culture. He has written a book titled Live In Spain to help those wanting to obtain a Spanish Resident Visa. He also loves to write about the funnier side of the family's adventures.

6 thoughts on “The Humble Peppercorn – Kep, Cambodia

  1. Hi Alan,

    Way cool! Think we visited the same farm? Or one close-by…..I recall eating the pepper corn off of the vine. Tasted wonderful. Also, having lunch down below the house, enjoying the peaceful scenery. We headed toward the crab shacks/restaurants in Kep too later in the day but only observed……for vegetarians do not each such fare 🙂 At least I was a veggie at the time…..

    Fab photos and story!


  2. So glad you posted since we are ‘stuck’ (not a bad place to be stuck) in Siem Reap for a bit. I will have to check this out for our future travel.

    • Thanks Donna. So sorry to see that you are a bit stuck. A similar thing happened to a man staying at our hotel (Jasmine Lodge), only the ATM took his card. Apparently his only card. It took well over a week to get it all sorted and the owner gave him credit to eat at the hotel until he had cash again. Tough situation when you can’t access your money. Thinking of you guys and wishing for speedy correction.

      In the meantime, yes do plan to visit the pepper farm. 😉

  3. Love this post. It’s one of my regrets from our trip to Cambodia – NOT going to a pepper plantation. Oh well, next time!

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