All About Peppercorns
Black pepper, many times an under appreciated spice, graces most every dinner table whether it is in a grind-your-own mill or in a simple shaker. It was once a treasured product of the silk route. Peppercorns come from a vine originally found in India and are actually berries.
- Green peppercorns are the fruit picked and either freeze-dried or brined. In Sri Lanka you will find them spread out on the side of roads to dry. They are fruity and less astringent that black peppercorn. Green peppercorns are used in Steak au Poivre and peppercorn sauce.
- Black peppercorns are the ripened and dried fruit of the pepper vine. In addition to India they are grown in Asia and South America. Tellicherry from India is left to ripen a bit longer on the vine and has a more robust pepper flavor than Lampong which is grown in Indonesia.
- White pepper starts as black but the outside skins are removed from soaking or friction. This pepper is popular in potato, rice and pasta dishes where the color blends. White pepper is also more subtle in flavor. Legend has it the Colonel Sanders’ secret ingredient for his fried chicken is white pepper.
- Pink peppercorns are not from the same pepper family at all. They grow on trees and are related to the cashew family (beware if you have nut allergies). These pretty little pepper kernels are my favorite. They are sweet and fruity and can be added to everything for flavor and color.
- Szechuan pepper is also not a peppercorn. It is the dried fruit from the Chinese prickly ash bush. It is one of the five ingredients in Chinese Five Spice. The heat from this spice is unique to say the least. It also has compound that cause tingling and numbing in your mouth. If you are brave, try eating one by itself!
- Long Peppers are found in Nepal, North Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia. They have sweet fruity flavor with extra heat that you do not find in black peppercorns. Place these in a tea/spice infuser or cheesecloth when cooking so you can easily remove them before plating. Or break apart to see the artistic design before you put them in mortar and pestle to crush.
- Grains of Paradise, aka Melegueta or alligator pepper, are grown in West Africa and became the substitute pepper when black pepper costs rose during the spice trade. These little ones are full of complex pepper flavor highlighted by ginger, coriander and citrus. Alton Brown used these as his only spice for a wonderful apple pie.
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