Food Tips

Discover Pepper

Discover Pepper

Photo: Grilled Four-Peppercorn T-Bones
Photography by Yvonne Duivenvoorden
Image by: <b>Photo: Grilled Four-Peppercorn T-Bones</b><br>Photography by Yvonne Duivenvoorden Author: Canadian Living

Food Tips

Discover Pepper

Before the 19th century, pepper was regarded as a luxury item for the upper classes. But as demand grew, cultivation spread, making it much more available and affordable. Today pepper is probably the most frequently used spice in the world, next to salt.

What They Are:
Peppercorns are the fruit of the Piper nigrum, a flowering vine native to the Malabar Coast of India but now also grown in southern Asia, South America and Africa. What most people don't know is that black, white and green peppercorns are all produced by the same plant, but each type is harvested and handled differently.

Black peppercorns are picked when not quite ripe (still green) then left in piles to ferment. After a few days, individual berries are spread out to dry in the sun until shrivelled and nearly black.

White Peppercorns are made from fully ripened berries that are just about to turn red. After harvesting, they are soaked in water to soften and remove their outer skins (pericarp) and expose the grey seed beneath. These centres are dried and become white peppercorns.

Green peppercorns are harvested while still immature, but because they decay quickly, fresh green peppercorns are rarely seen outside of their growing regions. For export, they are usually dried, freeze-dried or pickled in brine. Green peppercorns have a mild herbal flavour with a touch of spice and are commonly used in sauces, vinaigrettes, vegetables and rice. When dried, green peppercorns can be ground, crushed or rehydrated in warm liquid; green peppercorns in brine should be rinsed before using.

Pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all but the dried berries of the South American pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius). Today most pink peppercorns, also known as baies roses, are grown on the French Isle of Reunion, off the coast of Madagascar. They have a mild, resinous flavour that adds a touch of colour and sweetness to sauces and decorative peppercorn blends.

How to Use:
Both black and white peppercorns have a place in every kitchen. While black pepper has a biting flavour, suitable for seasoning an array of dishes, white pepper is more subtle in heat and most commonly used to season light-coloured soups and sauces. To retain the brightest flavour of both types, grind (or crush) them at the end of cooking or at the table.

• Peppermills are attractive for storing peppercorns at the table, and the grind size can be adjusted to suit the dish. When purchasing, choose a sturdy mill with metal blades. Mills should be cleaned to remove any buildup that may clog them.

• With a little elbow grease, mortars and pestles are useful for both fine ground pepper and large pieces of cracked pepper (used for coating meat or infusing sauces). Using a mortar and pestle means that peppercorns can be stored in an airtight container and kept fresh until ready to use.

Photography by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Page 1 of 2 -- Find great recipes for pepper on page 2

At the market
Peppercorns often take their names from their origins. Look for these varieties in specialty food stores or at online retailers.

Black Peppercorns
Tellicherry peppercorns, grown on the southwest coast of India, are considered by many to be the best peppercorns in the world. They are the ripest berries grown on Mount Tellicherry. They have deep hot flavour, reddish hue and are larger and more pungent than typical peppercorns. They are blanched then air-dried in the sun until dark and aromatic.

Malabar peppercorns grow lower on the same vines as Tellicherry and are picked at the same time. They have the finest flavour of all mass-produced varieties. They also are blanched and air-dried in the sun.

Sarawak peppercorns grow on the northeast coast of Borneo, Malaysia. They are air-dried indoors to retain flavour, resulting in a sweet, peppery fragrance, which is particularly complementary to sweets and desserts.

White Peppercorns
Sarawak white peppercorns are the crème de la crème of white pepper. Harvested when fully mature, they are packed in burlap sacks and placed in running stream water to loosen their husks, then hulled and sun-dried
until naturally bleached white. The result is a clean, pale peppercorn with
a rich, winey flavour and distinctive hot taste. They are a favourite with chefs and gourmets.

Muntok white peppercorns from the island of Bangka, Indonesia, though not as fine as Sarawak, have a lightly fermented flavour and hot taste that is best used in blends.

Penja white peppercorns, known as the pearls of Cameroon, are large, tan peppercorns from the Penja Valley in Africa. With woodsy and musky aromas, they are more delicate than most white pepper.

Exotic Peppercorns
Long peppers from Bali are not peppercorns but the 1-inch (2.5 cm) long fruit of the Piper longum. They are milder than peppercorns with sharp hints of cardamom, incense and pine. Grate them into a fine powder like nutmeg or snap them in half to release their floral aroma.

Cubeb or tailed pepper is the fruit of the Piper cubeba vine from the mountains of Java. Known also as comet's tail, the fat berry's flavour is similar to that of black pepper yet with a slight bitterness and aromas of allspice, camphor and clove. They are used in curry blends and the North African spice blend ras al hanout.

Guinea pepper, or alligator pepper or grains of paradise, is not a pepper but a member of the ginger family from the Aframomum melegueta shrub from the west coast of Africa. These seeds are known for their hot, herbaceous and slightly bitter flavour, used for flavouring sausages, aquavit and gin.

Recipes to try:
Toasted Black Peppercorn and Cumin Pork Tenderloin
White Pepper Pots de Crème with Rhubarb Cherry Compote
Grilled Four-Peppercorn T-Bones
Poached Salmon with Green Peppercorn Tarragon Sauce

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Food Tips

Discover Pepper