I love pepper! And in this note, I refer to “black” pepper or peppercorns that vary in type and are sourced from tropical places around the world.
Many people think (or say) that “pepper is pepper” and really don’t notice the subtle or not so subtle differences between the different types. I notice the difference and know many other people who have the save sensitivity to the varying flavors.
Pepper can be sweet, sour, bitter and of course, aromatic, in addition to the normal “heat” that one senses with the first taste.
Pepper enhances many foods that may not at first seem to be a candidate for peppering.
Try pepper on ripe strawberries. The flavor combination is incredible.
I recently got some of the Australian Mountain Black Pepper and sprinkled it on a strawberry/peach tart. Exceptional flavor and worth the premium price.
I’ve always put pepper on melons because that’s the way I learned as a child. A melon tastes flat without the “bite” of a sprinkle of pepper but with just a dash of pepper, the melon flavor itself is more pronounced and sweeter.
Pineapple is another fruit that marries well with pepper. Same with peaches, nectarines and apricots, and do try it on a mango or papaya. I occasionally find white sapote at the Mexican supermarkets and it is simply incredible when enhanced with freshly ground pepper.
Not so much cherries, plums or apples – although a pinch of pepper in apples being prepared for baking in a pie can add an interesting kick to the apples and the other spices.
In medieval times pepper was used in many desserts, far more than in modern recipes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
My favorite online vendor is PEPPER-PASSION where you can find most of the usual and not-so-usual varieties available; see the link at the bottom at the end of this section.
In the photo you can see one wooden pepper mill and four battery operated mills. Three are the “Trudeau Elite Graviti Pepper Mills and the smaller one is a MIU Battery Powered Pepper Grinder, which has a slightly smaller holding chamber but operates the same way.
I like these because there is no pepper falling out of the bottom, you tip the mill and it automatically begins grinding when the mill is partially inverted. Very clean and the size of the grind is easily adjusted.
The folks at Pepper-Passion are very nice to deal with and the custom wood pepper mills he makes are truly works of art. I’ve purchased the “Samplers” and the “OmniPacks” both for myself and for gifts and they are great bargains.
Following is a List of Peppercorns currently on hand:
Black peppercorns Piper nigrum
These are usually named after the location where they are grown:
These are berries that are picked while still green and they turn black with the process of drying.
Kampot – Cambodia Organic.
Large and shiny peppercorns. Not very hot but these also have what is described as “fruity” flavor and are great in vegetable dishes.
Lampong (AKA Lampung) – Sumatra, Indonesia
Not very hot, does have a “fruity” flavor, especially good with fruits and mild flavored vegetables – exceptional with plantains. Also a smoky fragrance in these small, brown peppercorns.
Madagascar Pepper is one of the largest peppercorns with a faint smoky aroma and flavor that works nicely with hearty meats. Great for grilling steaks on cracked pepper – as soon as the freshly cracked pepper hits the hot skillet, it releases a pungent aroma that causes immediate salivation.
Malabar – India (Southern India) very aromatic, woody, spicy heat.
Pohnpet Organic – Product of Pohnpet, Micronesia
This is an interesting peppercorn, very black, excellent flavor, slightly sweet and with a surprising complexity that makes it perfect for baked goods – Ginger, cardamom and black pepper cookies from Pithy and Cleaver, turned out exceptionally well using this pepper – I used a bit more than listed in the recipe.
Sarawak – Malaysia, Borneo.
Considered to be milder than other peppercorns with less heat. Supposed to have a “fruity” flavor but I really haven’t noticed it.
Talamanka – Ecuador – Rare and going to be rarer as the place it was grown has been turned into a pineapple plantation, according to a bulletin from Pepper-Passion. Too bad, this is a lovely pepper.
This has become one of my favorite all-round peppers. It’s hot, aromatic, spicy with hints of other warm, sweet spices. I use it sparingly because a little goes a long way. Today my lunch consisted of sliced tomatoes from my garden, cottage cheese, chopped fresh basil from the garden and a generous sprinkle of this pepper with sea salt from Bali.
Tellicherry – India, Mount Tellicherry.
a high grade pepper with a “complex, robust flavor”
Vietnamese Pepper – Medium heat with a hint of citrus flavor. These large brown peppercorns are excellent for salads and wonderful in fruit salads or just dusted on fruits and melon.
I prepared a salad with mango and pineapple, generously seasoned with this pepper and the flavor was exceptional. No dressing required.
Wynad Pepper – I recently purchased some Wynad Special Black Pepper from Kerala. The estate is an organic family enterprise and the annual crop is fairly small making this pepper somewhat more expensive than most. The result is worth the price. The flavor is quite pungent with a lot of spicy heat and with a long finish. This is not a pepper to be used generously. A small application to finish a dish and then tasting before adding more is certainly in order.
Judicious use will give one an excellent result.
White peppercorns –
These are the same as Piper nigrum but they are the berries that have been allowed to ripen fully on the vine and then harvested. They are packed into containers and soaked in water to loosen the skin then washed and dried. They are naturally white.
I have both Muntok and Sarawak white peppercorns.
These seem to have more heat than regular black pepper and there is none of the other flavors associated with the various types – many of these aromatics are in the skin which has been discarded in the processing.
I was given a small tin of white peppercorns from Africa that was much hotter than the others. I have used it sparingly as I doubt I will ever get more. It has an unusual “piney” aroma, although I don’t taste it in the food.
Green peppercorns – Madagascar
These are the immature berries of Piper nigrum and I have them dried and preserved in brine. I use the whole “wet” ones a lot more than I use the dried, although I have used the dried in soups and stock, and also in pickling fruits where I want a milder flavor than with black peppercorns. The last batch of honeydew melon pickles was made with green peppercorns and I really noticed the difference inflator.
I have some air-dried green peppercorns from India but have yet to open the container. Need to use up the others.
Pink peppercorns (AKA Rose peppercorns) Reunion Island. These aren’t related to Piper nigrum
They aren’t very hot but are rather spicy and sweet. They made a pretty presentation on pale-colored foods and I have been using them in fruit salads and especially salads made with poached chicken breasts.
I recently prepared a Waldorf salad with chicken and seasoned it with the pink peppercorns and it was delicious.
Sichuan or Szechuan peppercorns. These are not a true peppercorn, unrelated to Piper nigrum.
The importation was banned for many years, until 2005, because of a possible citrus plant disease problem. Still, a lot of the pepper came into the country during the banned years but nothing serious ever happened. Now the peppercorns are treated with dry heat to kill off any canker bacteria.
The peppercorns taste best if they are toasted lightly prior to grinding. They have a flavor similar to citrus zest, lemon or grapefruit and are usually not as hot as black pepper. However, there are some strains that are hotter so do taste before you go overboard with this spice.
Comet’s-Tail peppercorns Java Piper Cubeba
This is closely related to the true pepper plant and according to many writers, has been used since the Middle Ages and was more precious than ordinary black pepper. When freshly ground there are several aromas and spicy, citrusy flavors that are quite noticeable and complementary to many foods. It is very good with cooked fruits, compotes, puddings, fresh chutneys, etc. I’ve used it in curry. I also found it to be excellent with a stir-fry in which I used fresh pineapple with sweet peppers and pork.
Some writings and recipes from medieval times mention that the “whole cubeb spice” should be soaked, candied and eaten to “increase warmth in the loins and in the heart.”
Possibly this was the origin of the “red hot” candy…
Long Pepper Piper Longum, which is related to but quite different from Piper nigrum. It is hot and a little goes a long way.
It’s grown in Assam, India and the Long pepper I have came from Sri Lanka and I have seen it offered by one vendor whose source was Singapore.
Long Pepper is an interesting spice and works well with other strong spices, especially in spice mixtures for curry, in cookies and other baked goods, with fruits and melons. I recently added a small amount to a very rich gingerbread, after reading about how it was used in a similar cake in Medieval and Elizabethan times.
It doesn’t fit in pepper mills so I use a pet toenail clipper to cut it into small bits that will grind nicely in my pepper mills. I prefer the Trudeau Graviti Battery-Operated Pepper Mill as I have arthritis in my hands and have several of these for different peppers.
I’ve also used it in a spice rub for wild game (venison and mountain goat) and it did an excellent job of mitigating the gamey flavor associated with these meats.
Here’s a photo of the clipper and long pepper.
Australian Mountain Black Pepper. (AKA Tasmanian Pepper, Dorrigo Pepper) This is a berry, Tasmannia Ianceolata, wildcrafted in Tasmania, dried and processed. It is available in the U.S. from Salt Traders. The first I tried was sent to me from Australia and when it became available I purchased some from them. It has a very unique flavor, sweet, fruity and spicy at first and then fairly hot. Hotter than most black peppers, in heat, it is similar to Long Pepper.
I use it sparingly for direct seasoning because of the heat but it is excellent in stews, a little goes a very long way.
An excellent place to learn more about pepper is on various online sites.
The following are excellent resources:
Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages