Peppercorn Varieties and Origins


Pepper is always best when served freshly ground, regardless of the variety, and if you have never used freshly ground pepper you really do not know what pepper tastes like. The outer shell serves to seal in freshness and once this protection is lost, flavor diminishes rapidly. Some claim to notice a difference within 30 minutes, and most agree that much of the flavor is lost within 30 days of being ground.

While the full flavor of pepper will not be released until the outer shell has been cracked, whole peppercorns reveal much of their character by aroma. While different types of pepper have distinctively different flavors, it also true that different varieties of one type such as the Lampong and Malabar black peppercorns also have subtle difference in aroma and taste. It does not take a highly refined sense of smell to distinguish the differences in aroma. Try having a “pepper tasting” some time by first smelling different varieties directly from an open bag. (If you try smelling some roasted coffee beans between peppers you will have less carryover from the previous sample). You may finish by tasting in your mouth the variety that your nose preferred but it is difficult to taste more than one pepper without having the flavors intermingle.

All Pepper varieties are derived from the same vine (Piper Nigrum). Different varieties result from picking the berries at various stages of ripening and processing them differently. Common varieties include the following:

• Green peppercorns: These are berries that are picked long before maturity in the green stage and either air-dried, freeze-dried or pickled in brine to prevent fermentation. They are aromatic with a fresh flavor, but are not pungent. In the dried form they are considered essential for French, Creole and some Thai cooking. This is the also the pepper called for in a traditional “Pepper Steak” sauce. Because of the extra processing required and the smaller yield, these are some of the more expensive peppers. In recent years Brazil has become the chief source for this variety. We offer only the freeze-dried form, which is much more expensive, but widely recognized to have superior appearance and flavor.

• Pink or Rose Pepper: This is not a true pepper but is a dried berry from a small mastic tree related to the rose bush and found on the French Island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. (These are also commonly referred to as “Red Peppercorns” in trade and in many cookbooks.) These are used whole in nouveau cuisine dishes or mixed with other varieties for general use. The flavor is most similar to that of Black Pepper, but milder and more acidic with a hint of sweetness. This variety is expensive and difficult to find at the average grocery store. We have found a quality source with reasonable prices.

• White Peppercorns: These are fully ripened peppercorns that have been picked close to maturity and had their outer skin removed. This is generally done by soaking the berries in water for a number of days and then rubbing the outer skins off. It is also sometimes done mechanically while dry. The taste is hotter but less pungent and aromatic, and distinctive from that of the Black pepper.
White pepper is commonly used for sauces, soups, potatoes and beverages. (This is most popular pepper in northern Europe, outselling Black pepper by 10:1, reverse the ratio of the USA.) Due to the extra processing involved White pepper is slightly more expensive than Black varieties originating from the same location. We offer several varieties as follows:
a. Muntok: The most common variety of White Pepper originates from the small Indonesian Island of Bangka and the berries are named Muntok after the islands main port.
b. Sarawak: In the world of agriculture surprises sometimes occur, and a superior product is produced in a region not known for that type of product. This is the case with the most recent harvest of Sarawak White Pepper from Malaysia. These berries are large and flavorful and with a beautiful consistent white color and robust flavor. The price is about double that of Muntok and well worth it. (Click on the picture above and note the large size and uniform white color of the Sarawak corns compared to the Muntok.)
c. Talamanca Del Caribe: If you like your pepper hot, this is about as good as it gets for our friend “Piper nigrum”. This is a truly exceptional white pepper, which explains why it is double the price of Muntok. This pepper is organically grown and comes from Ecuador.

• Red peppercorns: A relatively recent invention, these are peppercorns picked at maturity in their red form and then dried whole or soaked in brine. (Do not confuse with “Red Pepper” which is finely ground Cayenne and other Red Chiles.) Red Peppercorns are extremely rare and not presently imported inot the USA to my knowledge. It is generally safe to assume that any recipe that calls for “Red Peppercorns” is in fact referring to the “Rose Pepper” described above.
• Black peppercorns: This is the most popular form of pepper in the USA. Black peppercorns are produced by picking the berries as they are beginning to ripen from green to yellow and while still relatively immmature. They are then boiled briefly and then allowed to ferment and dry naturally in the sun (or by forced air heating) until wrinkled and black. Black Pepper is hot, pungent and aromatic.
Most generic black pepper sold in stores is a mixture from a variety of sources bought at the lowest possible price. The least expensive grades of black originate from Brazil and are less flavorful than others. Unfortunately, most common black peppers contain a high proportion of Brazilian black pepper.
We sell only distinct varieties with the names indicating the origin and quality as follows:
a. Malabar: is a popular variety that originates from the Malabar Coast in the SW portion of India. The berries have a slightly greenish hue. This is an excellent pepper with robust flavor available at a reasonable price.
b. Tellicherry: comes from the same area as Malabar but represents the largest and highest quality berries and is generally considered to be one of the finest black peppers available. There is a balancing act involved to allow maximum development of size and flavor of the berries on the vine without allowing sugar content to rise to where losses will occur from rotting or predation.
These berries are picked a little closer to maturity than the Malabar as the color reaches yellow-orange and then boiled and dried. The color is a dark chocolate brown to black and the flavor is highly pungent and aromatic. Tellicherry peppercorns have a complex spicy aroma.
c. Sarawak: comes from Malaysia, and yields a smaller black berry with a slightly grayish hue. It has a milder flavor and frsh aroma that is often described as fruity.
d. Lampong: comes from the island of Sumatra in Indonesia and is similar in many respects to Sarawak except for being hotter. This is the variety most often sold in the UK. Lampong peppercorns have an earthy and smoky aroma.
e. Vietnamese: Some of the world’s best spices are coming from Vietnam these days and their pepper is no exception. This pepper is commonly compared to Lampong but I find the berries to be much larger and with a pleasant lemony/citrus aroma and taste. This variety is very versatile and worth trying. We are one of the few retailers to offer it as a distinct variety.
f. Talamanca Del Caribe: is a variety we discovered that is largely unknown to the average chef. This is a pepper grown in small quantities in Ecuador and certifed as organic. It has a robust flavor and pungent aroma that will likely surpass anything you have experienced before. Tasting Talamanca can be a life-changing event. This is the boldest flavored black pepper we know of.
g. Madagasacar: This is another variety largely unkown to American chefs. Madagascar was once a colony of France and the close relationship continues with most of their pepper exported there. Madagascar pepper features a medium sized berry brownish-gray in color with a strong aroma remniscent of hickory smoke or charred oak barrels. Some Chefs in France refuse to use anything else. Definitely worth a try.
h. Pohnpei: This is another area of micro-production that only dates back to the early 1960’s. Pohnpei (formerly Ponape) is a small island in Micronesia that became famous for its high quality but very limited pepper production. The price is very high and the supply has been very eratic in recent years. This variety has a flavor that is often described as sweet.

• Szechuan peppercorns: Szechuan (Sichuan) peppercorns are not a true pepper at all, but berries from a prickly Ash tree native to China. It is widely grown and consumed in Asia and is a vital component in many Chinese and Japanese dishes.
The peppercorn are air dried rust colored berries with hair-thin stem connecting to a split husk containing a black seed. The husk and the seeds are often separated as they have different flavors.
Szechuan pepepr corns have a aromatic and resinous flavor that leaves the lips tingly and slightly numb when tasted directly follwoed by a mdoerate heat that lingers. The peppercorns are often lightly roasted before crushing in a mortar and pestle and go well with fish, chicken and duck, or any dish where a spice heat is desired.
At Pepper-Passion we have made it easy to evaluate and sample different peppercorns. We offer a Rainbow Sampler Packs and also Black Pepper Sampler Packs at discounted package prices that make tasting and sampling pepper convenient and easy.
White Pepper, Muntok
The Pepper plant is a flowering wine. White Pepper is harvested when the pepper berry is almost ripe.
Then the peppercorns are soaked in water until its outer shell drops of and leaves the heart of the pepper. The White Peppercorns are dried under the sun.

Origin
Muntok White Pepper belongs to the best Pepper varieties of the world. This white pepper corn comes from the Indonesian Island Bangka southeast of Sumatra.
Muntok Pepper is an aromatic hot pepper and goes perfectly with fish, salad or poultry.

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