Pepper, together with salt, makes up the most basic of spices, included in almost every type of cuisine. Almost every savory recipe calls for salt and pepper to taste, without specifying exact amounts, because they are so basic and necessary in flavoring, that most home and professional cooks are able to eyeball the necessary amount which will make the dish come out perfect according to their taste preferences. Pepper has some health benefits as well. It has antimicrobial properties, possibly helping prevent infection, and is also thought to help in the digestive process. Pepper contains some key vitamins and minerals, and may have some therapeutic properties against pain, cancer, bronchitis, and malaria. Like most spices, for food it should be used in appropriately small amounts. An overload of pepper can make dishes inedible and may have negative side effects for the diner. If plain old ground black pepper isn’t exciting enough for you, many other types of pepper exist. Below is a guide to some of the common types of peppercorns available.
Black pepper is the most commonly used type of pepper in the United States. It has a spicy taste, and is often made available in shakers, alongside salt, on restaurant tables. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant kitchen without black pepper handy and used in dishes, and for good reason, since its taste can enhance pretty much any dish when used in small amounts (like salt). Black pepper is a dried form of not yet ripened, and therefore green peppercorns, sometimes boiled briefly before the drying process to help the darkening process during the drying. The slow-drying process allows enzymes within the pepper to darken its color. Purchasing it in the form of peppercorns, and grinding it close to the time it will be used, will help it keep its flavor longer compared to the pre-ground form. Peppercorns are also the chosen option for flavoring clear stocks and soups, since it can be strained out after cooking. If a restaurant was to choose only one type of pepper to keep on hand, black pepper would be it.
After black pepper, white pepper is the most popular type. The ripe, red peppercorns are the white pepper’s precursor, with the dark outer skin being removed to reveal the white seed of the peppercorn. Like black pepper, it is most often used in its ground form, and is often chosen over black pepper in light-colored dishes so as not to affect the tone of the dish. It has a more delicate flavor than black pepper, which also makes it preferable in some dishes. White pepper is an extremely versatile spice, but its color doesn’t stand out in a dish. Therefore, it will be the best option for businesses serving dishes which are light colored, where using black pepper or another option will taint the character of the dish.
Red peppercorns are peppercorns which have been allowed to ripen on the vine, as opposed to green and black peppercorns. However, the more common type of peppercorns sold as pink, or red, peppercorns, are not from the same plant as the green, white, and black varieties, and are actually related to the cashew family. They have a delicious, slightly sweet, fruity taste, with a bit of spice, making them excellent additions to salads and fish dishes. In addition to their taste, they also have a beautiful color with can contrast with many vegetables and sauces, creating a more aesthetic dish.
As stated, green peppercorns are the precursor of black pepper. They are the unripe berries of the pepper plant, which have been dried quickly (usually by freeze-drying) so as to prevent the browning process (which is responsible for the dark color of black pepper) from taking place quickly. Despite the drying process, green peppers often lack a long shelf life, due to the possibility of the change in color and flavor. Green peppers are generally considered to have a milder taste than black pepper, and can be used in light dishes such as Thai foods and other Asian dishes.
Pepper is one of the most common spices, but the forms, colors, and tastes in which it comes make it versatile and even unique. Though pepper can often be used in both peppercorn and ground form, the peppercorn form holds flavor longer. Modern day culinary trends are moving towards more color, unique flavors, and maximization of health benefits, all of which can be realized through the use of peppercorns.