A ubiquitous spice, pepper is a climbing vine native to Indonesia and southwestern India. Green, black, white – all pepper varieties come from the same plant (Piper nigrum)but are picked at different stages of growth and/or are prepared in different ways. Green peppercorns are picked early when still immature and either air-dried, freeze-dried or pickled in brine to prevent fermentation. Green pepper is aromatic and fresh but not pungent. They are used in French, Creole and some Thai cooking. Black peppercorns are harvested when mature but not ripe, then fermented and dried. Black Pepper is moderately hot, pungent and aromatic. White peppercorns are left to ripen on the vine, then hulled and dried. White pepper is hot and earthy but not aromatic. It is commonly used in Asian dishes.
Two other ‘peppercorns’ – pink and Szechuan – are misnomers in that they are not from the pepper plant. Pink peppercorns come from a plant native to Madagascar and are fruity, sharp and floral rather than hot. Pink pepper is better used as a whole spice than a seaoning product as the flavour dissipates when ground. Szechuan peppercorns are seeds from a plant in the citrus family; their flavour is slightly lemony, and produces a tongue tingling and unsuspecting numbing sensation.
Peppercorn actions are antiseptic, antibacterial, carminative, diaphoretic and diuretic. Black pepper is used in Ayurveda to improve digestion and gastrointestinal problems, treat colds and to address kapha imbalances. Similarly, Western herbalists use black pepper to stimulate appetite, enhance circulation, and in concoctions like fire cider to keep colds/flus at bay. Black pepper useful as a catalyst in some herbal formulas, such as with turmeric.
To make the most of your pepper, store peppercorns in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, and grind just before use for best flavour. Pepper’s strength and pungency means using it along with other spices in a blend is preferable to using it solo.« Back to Glossary Index