Peppercorns (Piper nigrum) – Their place in your kitchen!

 

In the world of Piper nigrum there are three basic types. Green, Black and White. Today you will be formally introduced to all three.

For the sake of clarity, we’d like to begin by addressing those pink things (shown in our Rainbow blend above) that are so often referred to as “peppercorns.” They aren’t, not even close. They come from the Schinus terbinthifolius plant and are more accurately referred to as pepper berries. As for their growth, flavor and other characteristics, we’ll discuss those in another post.

Green, Black and White Piper nigrum are each expressions of various stages of maturity and ripeness and require specific processing methods to deliver optimum flavor. Below is a brief discussion of each along with some basic tasting and pairing notes.

Green Peppercorns: These peppercorns are picked – as expected – while still unripe and green. Before the advent of modern technology they were brined to preserve their green color and unique flavor. Today premium green peppercorns are freeze-dried to preserve the intensity of flavor that can only be found in this unripened expression of the Piper nigrum plant.

Flavor profile: Because of minimal processing, these peppercorns will typically have the highest piperine content and, therefore, be the “spiciest” on the palate. But be warned, the heat builds slowly and takes about 15-20 seconds before you realize what you just put in your mouth. Before the heat builds you’ll be presented with grassy and herbaceous notes.

Pairings: Pesto, Primavera and anything with herbs or vegetables. This peppercorn does a nice job of supporting the herb & vegetable flavors without the typically overwhelming pungency of black pepper.

Black Peppercorns: These peppercorns are picked at half ripeness and before they turn red. The black color results from the oxidation that occurs when the drupes are left to dry in the sun. The most prized of all black peppercorns are graded Tellicherry from the Malabar Coast of India. Less than 10% of the total pepper harvest qualifies to be graded Tellicherry.

Flavor profile: When properly handled, these tend to be a bit less “spicy” than the green peppercorns. They deliver a much more pungent, earthy flavor as well. Good quality Tellicherry peppercorns can be enjoyed by noticing the absence of chalkiness and hints of bitterness that are typical of inferior quality black pepper. As the “heat” begins to dissipate a bit, Tellicherry peppercorns should also present a bright, orange, citrus-y note with their finish on the palate.

Pairings: Most proteins & vegetables. These are the perfect accompaniment for Steak au Poivre and Caesar Salad.

White Peppercorns: These peppercorns are allowed to come to full ripeness but were not large enough at maturity to qualify as Tellicherry. Typical old world treatment of the white peppercorns meant placing them in burlap sacks and leaving them in slowly running spring water for 7-21 days to allow the husks to fully dissolve off, leaving only the seed of the fruit behind. Highly commercialized ventures will mechanically or chemically strip the husk in a less time intensive manner to rush the pepper to market.

Flavor profile: Contrary to popular opinion, when handled in the traditional method this is the least “spicy” of the three peppercorns. It has a much more delicate flavor, lacking the typically earthy pungency of the black pepper, but still possessing a more subtle and unique pungent note of its own.

Pairings: Pork, chicken and eggs beautifully showcase the flavor profile of this peppercorn. You can also make good use of it in lighter colored dishes that would be aesthetically displeasing if a black pepper were visible.

When shopping for peppercorns, we have a few recommendations.

  1. Never buy peppercorns you can’t smell or taste first. You need to be able to determine if they have been properly stored. If they smell of wet cork or moldy, they haven’t been – don’t buy them! (FYI, most of the peppercorns sold in bulk in grocery stores and big box stores smell this way.)
  1. Buy only Certified Organic peppercorns. These are the only peppercorns that are guaranteed to not be irradiated. Once irradiated, most of a peppercorn’s vitamin C content is destroyed.
  2. Buy only Certified Organic peppercorns that are also Certified Fair Trade. This ensures child labor laws have not been circumvented and all the hands responsible for its growth, cultivation and harvest were treated in accordance with applicable international laws.
  3. Most of all, NEVER buy ground pepper.  Once the peppercorn has been cracked or ground the clock is ticking and both the flavor and aroma of the pepper is diminishing.  Within 2-3 weeks most of the desirable aspects of the flavor profile have all but disappeared and you are left with the burning, undesirably pungent, bitter hints of the pepper that could have been if you had not settled for less.  The most frustrating aspect of ground pepper being offered at the store, is that you have no way of knowing if that pepper was ground 2 months or 2 years ago until it’s too late.

If you have been looking for premium quality peppercorns, look no further! You can shop us online here.

We’ll give you the run down on pink pepper berries next along with a discussion about the potential benefits of peppercorns on your health!