Know your peppercorns: when to use black, white, pink and green

Kevin Farrell

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A dash of salt and a few twists of freshly ground pepper are the finishing touches of nearly every savory recipe out there. But when it’s time to grind, do you reach for the black, the white, or one of the more colorful varieties out there? Before you can properly pepper, you need to know your peppercorns.


Black peppercorns

Curiously, black peppercorns come from...wait for peppercorns. Freshly harvested green pepper fruit (Yes, pepper is the seed of vine-growing fruit) turn black after they have been cooked in water, and then left to dry in the sun. Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of black pepper, though the spice is cultivated across large swaths of Southeast Asia and India.

What they’re best with: Black pepper plays second fiddle only to salt when it comes to the world’s most versatile spices and seasonings. Black peppercorns possess the most concentrated flavor of the bunch, and go with just about anything. Fun fact: they can also be used to embalm the dead in a pinch, and were prized by ancient Egyptians for their use in mummifying.

Green peppercorns

Green peppercorns are pepper in its purest state, freshly plucked from the Piper Nigrium vine. Since they are essentially a fresh fruit, green peppercorns have a terribly short shelf life. Because of their higher water content, the easiest way to preserve green peppercorns is to soak them in oil or vinegar. They’re grown in all the same spots where black pepper is curated, but are primarily consumed in Thailand.

What they’re best with: Fresh green peppercorns make their way into delicate sauces usually served atop tropical seafood. Here in the states, you’re most likely to encounter them paired with salmon or pork.

White peppercorns

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#PEPPER - White Pepper is made by removing the skins from ripe peppercorns. It is a more delicate flavor than black pepper. Peppers include necessary antioxidants that can help you fight free radicals in some harmful problems such as cancer, strokes, and liver problems. White pepper helps the body secrete more hydrochloric acid, which is necessary for digesting proteins and other food components. White pepper contains minerals, such as manganese, copper, and magnesium, which are essential for healthy bone development and strength, particularly as people begin to age, and their bones gradually weaken. The capsaicin in the pepper also has anti-inflammatory properties. It is, therefore, extremely beneficial for all those who have arthritis and suffer from muscular swelling and pain. Due to the presence of capsaicin, pepper helps in burning the fats inside the body and thus helps in losing weight. The heat generated by white pepper can help one clear the nasal tract and relieve nasal congestion. It is also beneficial to maintain blood sugar and blood pressure, further resulting in promoting heart health. #pepper #whitepepper #blackpepper #spices #masala #liverinfection #weightloss #antioxidants #antiinflammatory #healthybones #hearthealth #bloodsugar #bloodpressure #cancer #thenutrication

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These tiny white spheres start out as green peppercorns that have been boiled and dried in the sun, transforming them into black peppercorns. But critically, the thin skin of the peppercorn is then removed to reveal its ashy white core. White pepper will usually cost you a little bit more, as there’s an additional step involved in their harvesting and preservation. 

What they’re best with: Less robust than black pepper, and earthier than their green cousins (or is it parents?), white pepper is called for in recipes for sauces like bechamel and alfredo, or in mashed vegetable dishes like potatoes or cauliflower.

Pink peppercorns

Pink peppercorns are technically not a peppercorn at all. In fact, they’re genetically closer to a cashew than the pepper spice family. But because of their similar shape and size to true peppercorns, they’re marketed as a pink member of the family. These blushing beauties are actually the ripe berries of the Brazilian (or sometimes, Peruvian) Pepper Tree. As such, you’re most likely to encounter them in South America. Unlike the more laborious white and black peppercorn production, pink peppercorns are simply plucked, and then left to dry in the sun before being bottled up and sold.

What they’re best with: These pink peppery cousins have a significantly lighter flavor profile than any of the real deals. Their delicate taste pairs perfectly with their ruby hue, making them a frequent addition to desserts, sauces, or even chocolate bars. Pink peppercorns, however, most certainly do not pair well with people who have tree nut allergies. As they begin to appear in more and more North American restaurants, allergy-sufferers should keep a watchful eye.


Kevin Farrell

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