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Test Kitchen tips: Peppercorns

February 2, 2012 | 12:03 pm

Blackpepperglennkoenig

Now a common table spice, pepper was once extremely expensive and one of the most valued items during the time of the Spice Trade.

  • Black peppercorns (Piper nigrum) are the most common type of peppercorn. The spice is actually a dried berrry. The berries are picked when they are just turning red but are still underripe and then dried until the skin shrivels and darkens.
  • White peppercorns come from the same  P. nigrum, but the berry is ripened and the skin is removed before drying. The pepper is often used in place of black pepper in light-colored foods and sauces where it won't be visually noticed but can still lend some pungency.
  • Green peppercorns also come from the same soft, underripe P. nigrum. They are preserved through artificial drying, or in water, vinegar or brine. Green peppercorns tend to lend a fresh, green flavor as well as some pungency. If the peppercorns are preserved just as they begin to turn red, they may be called "red pepper," though these are not the same as pink peppercorns.
  • Pink (or red) peppercorns are actually fruits from a different tree (Schinus terebinthifolius). Generally sweeter and more aromatic than p. nigrum, the peppercorns are often used as a decoration or garnish on a plated dish.

Peppercorns can be found whole, cracked, ground and powdered. For the freshest and most intense flavor, grind whole peppercorns right before using.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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-- Noelle Carter
twitter/noellecarter

Photo credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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