Spice support: pepper

Pepper, in its many varieties, is one of the world’s most popular spices, found in cuisines north, south, east, and west. While it is ubiquitous, few people know much about the spice, such as what differentiates the types of pepper, where the spice is grown or how it is harvested. Over at Serious Eats, new columnist Caitlin Penzey Moog (yes, of the Penzeys’ Spices family and also author of On Spice: Advice, Wisdom, and History with a Grain of Saltiness) fills us in on everything we need to know about pepper


When most Westerners think of pepper, they are likely referring to the dried fruits of piper nigrum, a climbing shrub from India. In the wild, the vining plant wraps itself around the trunks of trees and commercially, the plants are manually wrapped around stakes. Flowers produce rows of tiny berries which ripen from green to red. Once ripe, the berries are dried and processed to become the little wrinkled orbs of goodness we have come to love. 

White and green pepper hail from the same plant, but are processed differently. Green peppercorns are unripe berries that are kept from maturing either by drying or pickling. White peppercorns are the centermost part of black peppercorns – the wrinkled brown to black coating is stripped away using water to soften and remove it. In terms of flavor, green pepper is milder than black pepper, and white pepper is more delicate, with fruity or floral undertones. There is also some ‘barnyard fund’ flavors in white peppercorns due to a small amount of fermentation that goes along with the hull stripping process. 

Other spices called pepper come from a variety of sources. Cubeb pepper and long pepper are from plants in the piper family, so they are related to black, green, and white peppers. Some spices are not even remotely related to these pepper plants, but co-opted the pepper name due to its popularity or because of their heat. This list includes Sichuan peppercorns, grains of paradise, and sansho pepper. In addition to explaining where all of the different types of pepper originated, the article dives deep into the different nuances between different peppercorns in the piper nigrum family. 

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