Along with salt, different kinds of pepper can be found on almost every table. Known for giving food a burst of flavor, this spice has been used in cooking and food preservation for more than 4,000 years! So, whether you’re using a pepper mill and grinding your own dried peppercorns or buying pepper that’s already ground and ready to use, there are plenty of different way to incorporate pepper’s unique flavor into a variety of dishes.
What are the different kinds of pepper?
India is the major producer of Peppercorns (from which pepper is derived), but they’re also grown in China, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, South America, and Sri Lanka. During the harvesting season, three types of peppercorn are removed from the plant: black, green, and white. The difference between these three is determined by when the berry was picked and how it was processed. Let’s explore each of these different kinds of pepper in greater detail…
Black peppercorns have the strongest flavor of the three varieties and are the most pungent in aroma. Peppercorn berries are picked just as they are becoming fully ripe and dried in the sun. While the hull is black, the seed within is light and this results in a variety of black/grey/white shades you see in ground pepper. Black peppercorns can be used as whole berries, cracked into a coarse flake, or finely ground. Typical uses for black pepper include:
- Using the berry for pickling, soups, and stocks
- Using cracked pepper for meats and salads
- Finely ground pepper to lightly season anything from hamburgers to fish to vegetables
Note: Black pepper is the variety Tommy’s uses in our herb and spice blends for several of our flash-frozen vegetable medleys. See our Products page for more details.
Green peppercorns are picked before ripening occurs, and the berry provides a tart flavor that does not linger long. The berries for green peppercorns are not sun dried which helps to preserve their green coloration. Typically, green peppercorns are found packed in water or brine, or freeze-dried. Green peppercorns can be used in:
- Marinades and sauces for meat, poultry or seafood
- Added to vegetable dishes
While consumers in the United States generally favor black pepper, Europeans typically prefer white pepper. White pepper is produced when mature peppercorn berries are quickly doused in water to remove the dark husks prior to being sun-dried. Removing the husk allows the light colored seed to be the primary flavor generator and its subtle taste lingers long on the palate.
White pepper is generally used in two forms: whole berry or ground. White pepper is also preferred over black pepper when the chef wants a more subtle flavor and appearance – such as in white sauces and cream-based soups. However, it also enhances meat, fish, and vegetable-based dishes.
Red peppercorns can be difficult to find in the United States at traditional grocery stores, but are often available in specialty shops and via mail order. Red peppercorns, when compared to black, have a sweet rather than pungent flavor, and a bit more robust heat similar to cayenne or red chili peppers.
Pink peppercorns are produced from the red peppercorn berries, but instead of being dried, they are preserved in a salty brine solution. While pink peppercorns cannot be ground due to their softness, they can be added whole to egg dishes and salads for a sweet and spicy taste.
Peppercorn Blends and Combinations
There are a few peppercorn blends, which are created by combining different kinds of pepper, that can create truly amazing and complex flavors. For example, blending black and green adds a sharp, spicy bite. Blending black and white results in a longer lasting flavor that is well balanced. In addition, peppercorns can be blended with other ingredients such as chipotle, coriander, garlic, lemon or shallots to produce complex and flavorful marinades, dressings, and rubs that truly enhance meat, fish and vegetable dishes.
When it comes to using pepper to season dishes, we recommend experimenting to find what you like best and is suitable to the particular dish you are cooking. Whether you’re using fresh ground black pepper to season a salad or pasta dish or white pepper to add flavor to a cream-based soup, you’re certain to add a little spice that will make your taste buds stand up and take notice!