03 May2009

Peppercorns…

by Marketman

pepper1

Red or Pink “peppercorns”. Szechuan or Sichuan “peppercorns”. Black peppercorns and white peppercorns. Bottom left going counterclockwise. The first two aren’t even peppercorns, despite their names. Red or pink “peppercorns” are actually berries (Shinus molle) about the same size as peppercorns but aren’t close relatives. They were discovered in South America but now thrive in commercial plantations in Madagascar, Mexico and Australia. They aren’t as “peppery” as real peppercorns but they add a wonderful flavor to certain dishes. I like to use them together with black and white peppercorns as a rub for large roasts or steaks. While these pink/red imposters are called red or pink peppercorns, they take away from a little known fact that there are, indeed, REAL red peppercorns of the same family as the green, black and white ones. When the piper nigrum ripens on the vine, they turn a dark red and are used fresh off the vine, with a subtle, less sharp pepper flavor. But their state is fleeting, and personally, I have never seen or tasted a real red peppercorn…

Szechuan or sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) are the dried buds of a plant described as being more closely related to the citrus family, rather than more traditional peppercorns. If you look closely, they are quite different but nevertheless possess zing, sting and numbness when used to excess. The hot and spicy food of Sichuan cuisine relies heavily on this wonderful spice. A friend once brought some extremely fresh Sichuan pepper from China and I opened up the bag and inhaled deeply, only to cough violently and grab my chest as though I had inhaled the devil. Wicked stuff, these little pods…

pepper2

More commonly known black pepper (piper nigrum), is what 95+% of the world thinks of when you say “salt 7 pepper”. They are the nearly ripe berries of the plant that are harvested and allowed to ferment before they are sun-dried and their skins wrinkle up and become varying shades of brown to black. As the default black pepper in our home, we use tellicherry peppercorns from India. Though we buy locally sold black pepper which probably comes mainly from Indonesian plantations… People tend to ignore the difference between good black pepper, freshly cracked or ground and the nearly flavorless version you can often see and buy in groceries. I NEVER buy already cracked or ground pepper; always get fresh peppercorns and grind them yourself. It does make a huge difference.

White peppercorns are merely black peppercorns with their skins removed. However, I find that white peppercorns and ground white pepper lacks some of the character of their non-naked siblings… fancy chefs like to use ground white pepper in creamy sauces, soups, etc. where they feel the bits of black pepper mar the purity of the dish… I rarely use white pepper, but always have it in stock in the pantry.

pepper3

On our recent trip to Cambodia, we were thrilled to taste these “Kampot” peppercorns, famed for their size, flavor and fragrance. Kampot is a geographical region, and the peppers from there are highly prized. We brought home a kilo of the peppercorns and wished we had purchased more. Very good stuff. I find they were even more appealing than run of the mill Tellicherry peppercorns, though I suspect good quality Tellicherry and other Indian varieties would still win an overall taste-off… With pepper and salt being the two most common spices/additives to the food we cook today… one really has to explore the spectrum of quality when it comes to the various peppercorns and pseudo peppercorns… Next up, some green peppercorns.

Source: The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs & Spices

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Mila says:

    Have you used your sichuan peppercorns yet? If you plan to cook any chinese, particularly sichuan style dishes, the peppercorns add a tingling, numbing sensation, some people find it a bit too intense, but it’s what gives sichuan food its distinctive edge. It’s not just the heat that makes Sichuan food distinctive, you’ve got to have the “ma la” of the peppercorns. I usually eat a slice of radish to regain my sense of taste if the dishes were especially hot.

    May 3, 2009 | 6:25 pm

     
  2. Apicio says:

    Black pepper’s wrinkled skin does not only make it black in color but what actually makes it black pepper in character. We replaced black pepper with white pepper once to eliminate annoying black specks on our empanada crust and a slough of customers complained asking us whether we have altered our recipe. The solution we settled on was to use a finer grind of black pepper.

    Re Kampuchean black pepper, that region of South East Asia produces surprisingly intensely flavored herbs and spices in the world. Ever tried Vietnamese cinnamon?

    May 3, 2009 | 7:04 pm

     
  3. Marketman says:

    Apicio, yes, Vietnamese cinnamon is WONDERFUL. And it’s so cheap to buy in its whole form… hard curly bark. Here’s a link to wonderful article and photos on the Vietnamese cinnamon…

    May 3, 2009 | 9:19 pm

     
  4. Gener says:

    If we compare the philippines to most asian countries, we are actually not that much exploring many recepies or engridients or whatsoever related to spices, means we were left behind, and we actually sticked to food simplicity and just adopted few recepies lately from few countries, a little too late i believed.I went as far as south africa to sweden then from russia to south tip of india to sri lanka then morocco to the middle east..thought they have different(almost) preparation and use of recipe/spices..they are actually using the same spices thought different ways and use..taste may differ a little bit but they have common characteristics..we know locally simple spices like garlic,ginger,onion,tomatoes and black pepper and lately few more engridients adopted like curry,,while in other countries i mentioned,,,they have cinnamon,cardamom,sandalwood,dried lemon,turnip,sambar seeds and many more…shall we need to explore more,,,MM mentioned many many samples anyway! but why dont we try it too? i may explored tasting them perhaps curiosity or incidentally but im not good enought to list them,,i even dont know and reluctant to ask if what is the name of those spices! sounds stupid but true….

    May 3, 2009 | 9:53 pm

     
  5. rose aka sofia says:

    Mr MM!

    It’s good be reading your blod again! [Was so busy and too focused on work.. darnit] But I’m back and you’re link in my favorites has garnered the top spot :)

    I just started really cooking a few years back and pepper is a spice i always use. Your article really helped me understand the properties of the different varieties and I’d really love to try tose kamput ones. Are they locally available?

    i can’t wait to get hold of those vietnamese cinnamon =) thanks to gener and apicio!

    May 4, 2009 | 12:39 am

     
  6. Marketman says:

    rose, I haven’t seen the kampot pepper locally, but it might be at specialty spice shops. gener, despite our proximity to several spice growing areas, I think the spices were so sought after by the Europeans that whoever had the money got them… in other words, maybe hundreds of years ago we just didn’t think it was worth it to buy those spices to add to our food…

    May 4, 2009 | 6:35 am

     
  7. Gener says:

    MM,
    That is exactly true, money matters really and that is what puts us filipinos in so called “food simplicity” but we managed to make used of it anyway-like “igorot style” They simply boil the meat in water to tender then,,its up to the person to spice it up on his own way once taken out from the giant caserole. you had two choice of spice which is salt and hot chilli! but honestly its simplicity make it hilariously delicious..Again it happens few years back, Thailand managed to copy our patis concoction, and now they are the known source of patis worldwide…still,, im patriotic with our traditional spices anyway, they are all seen in most shopping centers like carrefour,spinneys and most malls worldwide…

    May 4, 2009 | 4:58 pm

     
  8. rose says:

    hi MM!\
    i love those peppercorns !i had some with salads from sonia’s garden…i think they’re young peppercorns, it’s not spicy,it pops when you chew them and they have this distinct taste, it’s so yummy!……oooppss, there’s another rose up there, hi!

    May 4, 2009 | 9:50 pm

     
  9. kurzhaar says:

    I used to grow pink “peppercorns” in California. Be aware that some people are quite severely allergic to them (even if they are not allergic to real pepper).

    May 5, 2009 | 6:14 am

     
  10. ira says:

    i’m addicted to freshly ground black pepper. i think i add to almost anything.

    partial “peppered” list:

    steamed rice – adds an interesting flavor
    mayonnaise – eliminates the “boringness” of mayo
    french fries – i like it better than dipping it in ketchup
    beef tapa – i find it tastier with lots of pepper
    shrimps – same reason as above

    *sometimes, i add a dash of pepper on mangoes

    May 5, 2009 | 1:03 pm

     
  11. Robyn says:

    MM – while I rarely use white pepper at home it’s not merely a a weaker cousin of black pepper, but a spice in its own right that has a character all its own. I can’t imagine Thai koay teow laad naa (stir-fried rice noodles with pork and greens gravy) topped with black pepper instead of white, or Javanese otak-otak (banana leaf grilled fish ‘sausages’) made with black pepper instead of its more subtle cousin. White pepper is also important in Balinese cuisine, and many Malaysian Chinese dishes (spicy pig ‘parts’ soup is one). I’m sure I haven’t even begin to cover its uses in Southeast Asian cuisine.
    It’s not only the purvey of Western chefs who don’t want those pesky black specks in their white sauce….

    May 5, 2009 | 1:59 pm

     
  12. Marketman says:

    Robyn, thanks for that, I swear I learn something new every day on this blog. Was definitely not aware how much white pepper is used in Southeast Asian cooking! I had come across white pepper in Indonesia before, but haven’t cooked enough dishes to recognize its contribution spice wise… now I know better. To my knowledge, it isn’t a much used ingredient in Filipino cooking… but then again, we don’t tend to use as many dried spices in our food as our southeast asian neighbors.

    May 5, 2009 | 3:33 pm

     
  13. corrine says:

    Very interesting info. I bought a small bottle of different kinds of whole peppers in Whole Foods but when I grind them in a dish, I don’t taste anything different. I wonder why?

    May 5, 2009 | 9:19 pm

     
  14. Apicio says:

    Isn’t nature prodigious in that the exact same dried berries give an altogether different flavor profile when decorticated. Brings to mind the not so dissimilar relationship of mace to nutmeg.

    May 6, 2009 | 7:38 am

     
  15. Marketman says:

    Apicio, that is right, and the first time I saw mace, I was stunned by its incredibly unique shape and color… so different from the nutmeg it envelopes.

    May 6, 2009 | 8:51 am

     
  16. nick says:

    What’s the difference between peppercorns and pepperberry? I see it here in OZ and it looks the same.

    May 6, 2009 | 3:42 pm

     
  17. Gener says:

    Corrine,
    You were a victim of plausible advertisement with unique obiquitous spices “cuno” on a crystal clear bottles, they were actually more expensive than those you buy in carton or sachets, you simply paid for the bottle but not the content. Taste of its content maybe also at odd as you have to understand that they were “treated” for preserve purposes while those you can found on the open market were natural and mostly were new, so taste is much natural and better..

    May 7, 2009 | 4:58 pm

     
  18. Vicky Go says:

    I love red/pink peppercorns – order them from Penzy’s Spices. Drop a few of them in marinated Danish blue cheese – delicious!

    May 12, 2009 | 12:02 am

     
  19. Francis says:

    is szechuan peppercorn available locally here in the philippines? i have been planning to cook recipes using szechuan peppercorn but i can’t seem to find them here in manila. thank you.

    Oct 27, 2009 | 7:48 pm

     
  20. Jaube says:

    yes please, i’ve been looking for pink peppercorns for quite some time now. please tell me where i can get some :)

    May 24, 2010 | 11:00 pm

     
  21. Edward says:

    Where can I buy pink peppercorns here in Quezon City?

    Mar 15, 2011 | 10:09 pm

     
 

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