I am sure that we all know the condiments commonly used in cooking and seasoning that are also present at pretty much every dining table called salt and pepper. Recently, I was looking at one of the two mills sitting at the table and asked my son “what do you know about them?” – well the answer was very short…it’s a seasoning!
I had no idea that salt and pepper as an accessory was introduced through French cuisine during the 17th century as the only spice that does not overpower the true taste of the food – what do you think?
The colourful history of peppercorns dates back to 2000 BCE where the most important exporters of peppercorn were India, the Malabar coast, and its lost ancient city of Muziris in Kerala, famous for exporting black pepper and other spices. Peppercorns became a highly prized trade good often referred to “Black Gold” and used as a form of money. Since then peppercorn has become well recognized by the Romans, Egyptians and many other cultures for its culinary and medicinal properties.
So what are peppercorns?
Peppercorns are dried fruits from a flowering vine tree, which is native to India from where it spread across tropical regions. There are over 600 varieties of pepper, with only a few used as spice. Peppercorns are distinguished by type of processing and maturation of the fruit. The main pepper spices we are familiar with are; black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit) and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds). All these come from one tree and the only difference is in the drying process. Pink peppercorn, Sichuan pepper, Sansho pepper are some other peppercorns that we will cover in a separate article.
Like many eastern spices, pepper was historically known as a folk medicine as well as seasoning for its flavours. Black pepper has its spicy heat with woody, citrusy and floral notes from its outer layer, while the white pepper is more mild as the outer layer is taken off from the fruit has a longer fermentation period. All peppers lose aroma and flavour during evaporation and thus it is suggested to keep peppercorns in airtight containers as well as to grind whole peppercorns on a spot when you need them in order to release the flavour at the time of use.
Black pepper plays a huge role in the culinary world and the use of it varies based on different styles of cuisine from dressings, coating meat, crushed peppercorns to chai tea. It is more dominant than white pepper which is mainly used in Chinese and Thai cuisine, salads, light coloured sauces and mashed potatoes, my favourite.
Instead of a cocktail recipe, we share with you a chefs technique that helps to get rid of spiciness from black pepper called “Blanching.”
Put black peppercorns into a sieve and slowly pour boiling water over them to wash the peppercorns. Repeat this 2 – 3 times. Use the peppercorns for the woody flavours, in recipes for both cooking and in cocktails.
Bartenders note: “All Bloody Mary’s are associated with black pepper, however the variations are endless with the different types of peppercorns.”