Black Pepper

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The Four Colours of Pepper
Picked Peppercorns

Black Pepper is the king of spices and is a storecupboard ingredient. The best black peppercorns come from Kerala in southern India, with the top of these called Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold or Special Extra Bold.

Black peppercorns are dark brown, 3 - 5 mm (⅛ inch) gnarled ovals. Black pepper smells peppery - warm, woody and pungent - with a sharp bite that is direct, rich and warm with a deep appetising aftertaste.

For black peppercorns, the berries are picked when they have grown to full size but have not yet ripened, just as a couple of berries have started to change to a yellow colour. These still green fruits are then laid out on concrete drying yards in the sun to dry. During this process, the moisture level falls and the berries wrinkle up into their characteristic gnarled shape. At the same time, an enzymatic reaction takes place in the pericarp of the peppercorn which turns the green skin dark-brown and produces the volatile oil, piperine, along with several other oleoresins that make the warming, oily flavours of black pepper. The black pepper is then cleaned from extraneous stuff, packed and stored.

In cooking, the best time to add black pepper is at the end of your cooking - about 3 minutes before the end - giving a fresh complex flavour with the heat of pepper, but without any bitterness. Adding it earlier, reduces the heat as the piperine oxidises during cooking.

Black pepper is good with almost everything from beef through to tomato, and even sparingly on strawberries. Black pepper can be ground, or crushed and rubbed into meat or fish or added to marinades or sauces. Pepper is also a table flavour that guests can add to their food to their own tastes.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • McFadden, C. (2007) Pepper: the spice that changed the world, Absolute Press. ISBN: 9781904573609.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.