Pepper is one of the earliest known spices native to the Malabar Cost of India (Britannica, 2000). Today, it is cultivated in several tropical regions in Africa and South America. Ground black pepper as we know it today comes from peppercorn, the fruit of pepper that gets processed and ground into a powder. The aroma is pungent and spicy.
While salt is capable of completely transforming any food on a chemical level, pepper is a spice that adds flavor or a kick of heat. Unlike salt, it is not necessary for every dish you cook. Several Middle Eastern and Northern African countries, for example, use spice blends such as za’atar instead of pepper; some Asian countries such as Thailand use sugar and chili paste (Nosrat, 2017).
Pepper, like nearly all spices, is best when ground whole before using (Nosrat, 2017). The flavor is stronger and more complex this way. There are a variety of peppercorns; here are some varieties:
Varieties of Pepper
Black peppercorns (black pepper) are a kitchen staple available in several varieties. Depending on where they are grown, black peppercorns can develop unique flavor profiles and characteristics. They are harvested when peppercorns on the plant begin to change from green in color to red. The peppercorns are then boiled for roughly ten minutes to help break down the cell wall and make the drying process easier (Britannica, 2020). The peppercorns are then dried in the sun for three to four days (Britannica, 2020). Some black peppercorn varieties include Tellicherry, Malabor, Lampong, Vietnamese, Sarawak, and Talamanca (Falkowitz, 2021).
White peppercorns (white pepper) come from the same plant as black peppercorns, except it is processed by removing the outer coating before being dried in the sun (Britannica, 2020). The flavor is more intense than black pepper with a sour kick. As an added bonus, the light color is aesthetically pleasing if you do not want black pepper flecks in a dish.
Green peppercorns (green pepper) are unripe peppercorns that have been either been dried or fermented (Cole, 2020). As a result, the flavor is mild, acidic, fruity, and bright. They can go rancid quickly, which is why they are typically pickled.
These rosy colored peppercorns come from the same plant as the black, white, and green varieties, but are fully ripened on the plant. They are both sweet and pungent and often preserved in vinegar or brine (Gernot, 2006).
Pink Peppercorns— Pink peppercorns do not actually come from a pepper tree, but from the fruit of the Brazillian pepper tree and the Peruvian pepper tree ― both members of the cashew family (Fine Dining Lovers, 2021). They have the pungent flavor of black peppercorns, but also a touch of sweetness. Pink peppercorns work well with aromatic spices such as cinnamon, ginger, mint, and basil.
Szechuan Peppercorns—Szechuan peppercorns are not true peppercorns, but rather, a berry from the mountain ash tree of the Szechuan province of China (Fine Dining Lovers, 2020). The spicy kick is mild, but it is better known for its pungent flavor.
Long Peppercorns—Long peppercorns are also not true peppercorns, but they are quite aromatic with much more heat than black peppercorns. Long peppercorns are known for their unique shape and are often used in North African and Southeast Asian cuisine (Fine Dining Lovers, 2020). Since they can be difficult to find in Western grocery stores, recipes that call for them can be substituted with Tellicherry pepper, white pepper, or any of the two mixed with mace, nutmeg, cardamom, or grains of paradise.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020, January 30). Black pepper. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/plant/black-pepper-plant
Cole, H., (2020). 6 Types of Peppercorns Worth Knowing. Fine Dining Lovers. Retrieved from https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/6-types-peppercorns-worth-knowing
Falkowitz, M. (2021). A Guide to Black Pepper: Taste Test. Serious Eats. Retrieved from https://www.seriouseats.com/taste-test-black-pepper-what-are differences-in-varieties
Fine Dining Lovers, (2021). Pink Peppercorns: Benefits and Recipes. Fine Dining Lovers. Retrieved from https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/pink-peppercorns
Nosrat, Samin, (2017). Salt Fat Acid Heat. Simon & Schuster.
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