Black, white, Szechuan, pink, green, Tellicherry and more! Those are all types of pepper. Each is unique and should be used in different ways.
Black pepper is the most common spice in the world and is found in just about every single cuisine. Its use dates back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, having been found in ancient tombs and in mummies’ nostrils! It was exotic and signified elevated status.
It’s, frankly, my all-time favorite and I tend to use a LOT of it when I cook for myself.
My morning egg typically receives 8-10 grinds alone.
Peppercorns are actually fruits that grow on vines.
These fruits have thin skins, very little ‘fruit’ and a large seed.
Black peppercorns are the dried, unripe fruits that are cooked.
The bite of black pepper is lessened by age, light and heat.
It’s best to store in a darker place and grind fresh as you need it. If you’ve been buying the tins of pre-ground pepper from the grocery store, I urge you to upgrade to peppercorns that you grind as you cook/eat. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
White peppercorns are the seeds of the dried, ripe fruits.
Depending on where you are purchasing white pepper, the heat can be non-existent or a lovely backnote that warms the dish.
Many mistakenly think the flavor is the same as black and just use it when they don’t want black flecks to show up in their food. Give it a try and see the difference.
Green peppercorns are preserved unripe fruits that are sometimes brined or pickled.
These are a very different taste experience as they are not usually ground but are used whole in braising or as a garnish. (Between you and me, I’m just not a fan.)
The pink peppercorn is an outlier.
It actually grows on a Peruvian pepper tree which is closely related to cashews. In essence, it’s a tree nut and should be avoided by those with tree nut allergies, especially cashew allergies.
Be aware that many peppercorn blends include pink peppercorns and should be avoided if there are allergies. I stopped using peppercorn blends years ago when I learned this.
Another not-really-pepper peppercorn is the Szechuan.
These are the seeds of the prickly ash tree and they have a unique, slightly citrusy taste and a slight mouth-numbing quality.
This is the typical pepper blended into Chinese Five Spice Powder. It’s best used ground with the husks sifted out.
The misunderstood Tellicherry peppercorn.
Lastly, there is the Tellicherry peppercorn which is a misunderstood peppercorn. It grows on the same vines as regular black and white and green peppercorns.
It’s not from an Indian town called Tellicherry nor is it left on the vine longer than the other peppercorns.
It all comes down to size. The peppercorns are dried and then sifted/sorted. Tellicherry peppercorns are ones that are 4.25 mm (or larger). That’s it.
There are fewer of these on the vine and therefore they command a higher price.
So my tip this month is to explore freshly ground peppers of all varieties – black and white and pink (if no allergies) and store these in a solid grinder or in a darker part of your kitchen pantry to keep them fresh and spicy!