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Three Varieties of Peppercorns
Were you aware that peppercorns are fruit? It is true! They grow on a vine by the name of Piper nigrum in the family Piperaceae. The long flowering spikes turn into a cluster of tiny berries, known as drupes, which are then harvested and processed into the black, white, and green peppercorns.
As you might surmise, the green peppercorns are the unripe versions. They are uncooked, dried, and typically preserved in vinegar or brine. You can find some in the dried form.
Black peppercorns are unripe green ones that are picked, cooked in hot water, and then dried. They are the most aromatic and have the strongest flavor due to their shriveled and blackened skin.
White peppercorns are ripened berries allowed to soak in water long enough to soften the skin or are fermented. Removal of the skins takes place, and then the berries are dried. While they're slightly hotter than the black, white peppercorns are less aromatic.
Chefs don't use white pepper just to avoid spoiling the whiteness of pommes puree or bechamel. It has a more peppery aroma, with sharpness and sweetness, too.
— Yotam Ottolenghi
The Spice Trade
Pepper and the trading of other spices have been around for millennia. Trading and bartering for items and services took the place of currency for hundreds of thousands of years. Since everyone eats food for sustenance, the preservation and flavoring of that food took on prominence.
Overland trade routes combined with maritime routes expanded the trading of pepper and other goods. It also resulted in the discovery of other lands and civilizations. Along with those discoveries came technological progress and the mingling of cultures.
Reading about the spice trade and its significance to the world we know today is of great interest to historians. The discovery of pepper plays a big part in that story. Black pepper, known as the king of spices, wins the title of being the most widely traded spice worldwide. Statistically, today it accounts for about one-fifth of all the sales.
Where and How Do Peppercorn Plants Grow?
The vines of the Piper nigrum are native to southern India. Today the world's most abundant producer and exporter of peppercorns is the country of Vietnam. Almost one-third of all peppercorns come from there.
Many peppercorns have names derived from the places that they are cultivated and grown. Tellicherry is one such example that most people know.
Vines of the Piper nigrum can get up to a height of thirteen feet or more and need support upon which to grow. The vines can grow up trees or stakes such as bamboo.
Propagation occurs via the taking of cuttings. New cuttings start producing the fruit anywhere from two to five years.
Large commercial operations provide cages filled with a soilless medium that has moisture retention qualities. It is enriched with worm castings and culturable fungi and is a perfect way to provide top quality plants. You can see more of that process in the video below.
Throughout the centuries, pepper usage includes different types of folk medicine, beauty treatments, and culinary practices. At one time, it became part of the mummification process.
Ascribed to the consumption of pepper are certain health benefits due to the active compound known as piperine. Piperine has some anti-inflammatory effects as well as antibacterial and antioxidant effects. It can aid in digestion, helps get rid of gas, and can make you sweat. Some people claim it can also help to benefit in diabetes, cancer, and obesity treatments. Other things attributed to it include supporting brain function, treating coughs and colds, acting as an anti-depressant, and even helping one quit smoking.
Piperine can increase the absorption of some nutrients and vitamins, but for that same reason, it can interfere with some medications. So always consult your medical professionals if using more than a usual amount of pepper to season your food. I always use black pepper when I add turmeric to soups or other foods because the pepper accentuates the curcumin activity in the turmeric.
Black pepper is necessary to absorb the key antioxidants in most spices and foods, including turmeric, so get a pepper grinder and fill it with Tellicherry peppercorns.
— Steven Gundry
Storage and Usage Tips
Store your dried peppercorns in cool dark places in airtight containers. The same storage suggestions apply to most herbs and spices. A pantry or kitchen cupboard suffices if it is not near a heat source.
Grinding peppercorns fresh releases the most pungency and flavor. Instead of the standard salt and pepper shakers of the past, many cooks now also have pepper grinders. If you do not yet own one, it is well worth the money!
If using the canned green peppercorns, store unused portions in a refrigerator.
Store spices in a cool, dark place, not above your stove. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor.
— Rick Tramonto
My Husband's Green Peppercorn Sauce Recipe
After reading numerous different recipes, the one below is the one that my husband made his own. He generally serves it over beef, but it is equally good over other types of meats. If serving it with beef, a good wine accompaniment is Cabernet Sauvignon.
You need not use much of this sauce to ramp up the flavor of dishes. A tablespoon or two adds a punch of flavor that is memorable. Everyone who has ever tasted it at one of our dinner parties has loved it.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
12 servings (1 ounce per serving)
- 2 (10 1/2 ounce) cans Campbell's beef broth
- 1/2 pint heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon green peppercorns, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with the sauce
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Rinse the green peppercorns and crush them in a mortar and pestle.
- Mix the beef broth, heavy cream, lemon juice, and crushed peppercorns in a large saucepan and reduce over high heat by 1/2 to 2/3.
- Thicken sauce to desired consistency with cornstarch.
- Finish with 1 pat (1 tablespoon) of butter.
- In addition to recommending the Poivre Vert brand of green peppercorns, my husband also likes using Campbell's beef broth because it has a much richer flavor than other brands he has tried.
- Arrowroot can be substituted for cornstarch when thickening the sauce.
- This recipe may be doubled or tripled and frozen for future use. When making extra quantities, decrease the amount of lemon juice to taste.
- This green peppercorn sauce is equally good over other types of meats like chicken or pork. Once you taste it, I am sure that you will want to make it again and again.
© 2021 Peggy Woods