One of the most ubiquitous whole spices used in spice grinders all over the world is without a doubt the humble peppercorn. This spice can be found in almost every part of the world, and is used in almost every global cuisine. While black pepper is the best known of all the peppercorn varieties, there are also other varieties that can add plenty of flavour, aroma and complexity to dishes.
It is important to note that until you have tasted freshly ground pepper milled directly onto food, you cannot truly appreciate the taste of this heady spice. Equal parts pungent, rich and sharp, the taste and smell is distinctive, working well over a simple piece of avocado toast, perfectly brewed cup of chai or an elaborate five-star dish worthy of MasterChef. Already ground pepper is very different to freshly ground, with much of the flavour and freshness lost within 30 days of the spice being ground. As peppercorns are ground whole, the flavour is protected inside the outer shell of the dried berry. The grinding mechanism of a spice grinder breaks through this shell, releasing the flavour inside.
The scent of whole peppercorns does however reveal a hint of the flavour to come. If you visit a spice market, and compare different peppercorn varieties, you will soon notice this subtle difference in aroma.
Which Peppercorns Should You Have in Your Pepper Grinders?
As each kind offers its own distinct flavour, you may find that it’s handy to have a few different kinds of peppercorn. Stocking up on a few good quality spice grinders is the best way to grow your spice collection and enjoy delicious, fresh, whole spices for every meal.
All pepper comes from the same plant – Piper nigrum. Varieties differ according to when the berries are picked, and how they are processed to achieve the final colour and flavour.
- Green Peppercorns. Popular in Thai, French and Creole cuisine, green peppercorns are picked before the berries have matured, while they are still in their green stage. They are typically air-dried, freeze-dried or pickled in brine to avoid fermentation and keep them from ripening after plucking. This type of pepper is aromatic and fresh, but milder than other types. This type is often used in traditional peppercorn sauces. As a fair amount of processing is required, and the yield is often smaller for immature berries, they cost bit more than black or white peppercorns.
- Pink or Rose Pepper. Pink pepper is not a true pepper, but is actually a dried berry from a tree that is found on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Often, in cookbooks and supermarkets, this type of pepper is called ‘red peppercorns’ – true red peppercorns are very rare however. The flavour is very similar to black pepper, but a little milder and sweeter. It can be on the pricey side as berries are imported and therefore not easily found at spice markets and supermarkets.
- White Peppercorns. White peppercorns are fully mature berries that are picked when partially ripe. Their skins are removed by soaking the berries in water for a few days and then rubbing them off manually or mechanically. The smell is earthy, while the taste is hot and spicy. As the flavour is very distinctive, it is often used in sauces, soups and dishes rather than as a final seasoning on its own. The additional processing steps also make this pepper slightly more expensive than black pepper, even when buying spices from the same region.
- Black Peppercorns. The most common type of pepper, black peppercorns are mature berries that are picked before ripening, as they begin to move from green to yellow. The berries are boiled briefly, then left to ferment and dry in the sun or dried by air heating, until they turn black and wrinkled. The taste is moderately spicy, especially when ground from whole peppercorns.
Each peppercorn has its own place in your spice grinder, as you can see! Try them all, and you will soon begin to enjoy the versatility and taste that freshly ground peppercorns add to your meals.