Black pepper has a strong, hot, sharp flavor. White pepper is milder. Green peppercorns are refreshingly spicy. All these are types of pepper, the most used of all spices.
Pepper is the most used spice in Western cooking. Whole peppercorns wil give you the true flavor and aroma of pepper, as once ground pepper loses rapidly its spiciness. A pepper mill is the best way to enjoy pepper. A table with a pepper mill signals a host that truly cares about food. White pepper is considered milder than black peppercorns. Although there is an ongoing discussion about which pepper is superior, white or black, the only advantage of white pepper is that it blends better with food, especially white sauces, where black pepper would stand out because of its color.
Pepper was once considered the spice of spices. It certainly has changed history. When Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese navigator, went to sea under the sponsorship of the Portuguese king Henry the Navigator, his purpose was to find a maritime rout to the East, particularly the Malabar coast, where pepper grew, and try to break the Venetian spice monopoly. A task he achieved, finding plenty of pepper. This was in turn the inspiration for Columbus and his Spanish sponsors King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. Columbus did not find pepper, but came back with many other invaluable vegetables and spices.
Pepper was known to the Romans, but they favored another variety, the long pepper from the piper longum pepper vine. Long pepper has a slightly sweeter flavor, even if as pungent as black pepper. The Romans offered this long pepper to the Visigoths in exchange for safety, as they tried to prevent the sacking of the city. Unhappily for them, the Visigoths took the pepper and plundered Rome all the same.
Pepper trade was conducted through Asia and for all the Middle ages. The trade was controlled first by the Arabs, then by Venice, the powerful city-state that achieved its dominance by taking charge of the spice trade and establishing a monopoly.
How to identify pepper
Peppercorns are the dried unripe fruit of the pepper tree, a tropical vine. Pepper was native to the region of Southern India and Cambodia, but extended to South East Asia and now it is also cultivated in the Western Indies, Madagascar and Brazil.
The pepper vine grows up to 12 feet ( 4 m) in supervised fields and it has deep green leaves. The berries hang in strings. unripe berries are green, turning dark red when fully ripe.
Black pepper is the dried unripe peppercorns, briefly cooked in hot water and dried . This process liberates browning enzymes that act during the drying period to give it its characteristic dark color. it is available whole or ground.
White pepper is the fully ripe fruit with the skin removed. The red ripe berries are soaked in water before, then the skin is removed and the peppercorns dried.
Green pepper is the same unripe peppercorns freeze dried or precessed with a method that preserves their green color. Green pepper is found as dried peppercorns or peppercorns in brine.
Ripe peppercorns can also be treated in such a way that preserves their color to produce red pepper.
What it is known as pink pepper are the fruits of a different plant altogether. They are the ripe berries of the South American tree schinus terebnthifolious. Pink pepper has been in fashion for a short time, but it is not as favored by gourmets because of the suspicion it can trigger allergic reactions. Pink peppercorns are available pickled or dried.
In the same vein, anise pepper comes from a plant totally unrelated to black pepper. Anise pepper, also known as Szechuan pepper, has a long history in Chinese cuisine.
How to use
Black or white pepper are dried. Whole peppercorns are best because ground pepper loses aroma fast. Buying whole peppercorns is also recommended because ground pepper is easily tainted by mixing with cheaper spice or other powders. Store peppercorns in an airtight container and they will keep indefinitely. Crush or grind as needed.
Crush peppercorns in a paper bag with a rolling pin. Mix with bread crumbs, flour or batter to coat steaks. As a seasoning, grind peppercorns in a mill and use immediately.
Green pepper can be found also in brine. Green peppercorns in brine are best stored in the refrigerator and used within 6-8 weeks from the date of purchase.
Cooking with pepper
Pepper is a table condiment together with salt. It is used to flavor all sort of dishes. It is used also in pickling mixtures, and broths. It adds spark to vegetables, meat, or fish. Pepper seasons all types of savory dishes, sometimes even as central ingredient as in steak au poivre. Green peppercorns are often crushed in sauces for duck and chicken.
You will find whole black peppercorns in sausages and pickles, and they are also used in stocks. While white pepper is preferred for pale sauces such as the classic French sauce au poivre. Green peppercorns are mashed and then added to butter, creamy sauces for fish or poultry, and crushed are used for coating meat, poultry or fish steaks.
For a green pepper sauce to serve with grilled fish or meat, blend 2 teaspoons mashed green peppercorns, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, and salt, to taste, into 2/3 cup heavy cream, heat until almost boiling but don't allow to break into a boil. Pour a little of this sauce over a grilled steak and serve more on the side and you have a fashionable steak au poivre vert.
For peppered cheese, shape some cream cheese into a roll or into cubes, coat with crushed black or green peppercorns.
Always check seasoning before serving, and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary. Even if this instruction is not written in the recipe.
If you don't have any pungent peppercorns at hand, substitute 1 tsp peppercorns with:
- 1 to 1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp pink peppercorns, spicy but not really pepper
- 1 tsp anise pepper, adding fruity aroma
- 1/4 to 1/2 cayenne pepper, much stronger
- half the amount mustard seed.
All purpose pickling spice mix
Pickling spices are a combination of whole seeds used to flavor pickles and chutneys. Pickling spices can be wrapped in a cloth for an easy removal once they have been used.
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 small chili pepper, dried, whole
2 small pieces dried ginger
2 bay leaves, chopped
Mix all spices, wrap in cloth if wished, and used as indicated in your recipe.
piper nigrum (piperaceae) - pepper - French: poivre, poivre vert - German: pfeffer - Italian: pepe - Spanish: pimienta, pimienta nergra, pimienta blanca, pimienta verde.