March 10, 2022
I grabbed the jar of black pepper from our breakfast table, turned it to see the label, and held it up in marvel for everyone to admire. "Tellicherry whole pepper from Costco!" I shouted. Everyone with me at the table immediately took notice and was as amazed. The big deal was that my camera crew and I were sitting at a guest home in Tellicherry (now Thalassery) in the Indian state of Kerala where the black pepper hails from. It's know to be the finest black peppercorn in the world because of its pungent and complex taste profile. It is bigger than most peppercorn and allowed to ripen longer on the vine, which makes all the difference. And to see the familiar Costco label and jar put everything into perspective.
From black pepper, we go to white pepper, which is also sold extensively in the markets in Thalassery. This week, I showcased a few Indo-Chinese recipes and in them used a touch of white pepper. Even if you don't think you use this spice, I am going to bet that you do. Have you used black pepper? Well, then. You've essentially - kind of - used white pepper. The two spices come from the same source, the same berry from a vine that is the pepper plant.
If the berry is picked before it has a chance to ripen it is being harvested to make black pepper as we know it in the West. It is picked and then dried. The skin on the outside darkens and essentially shrivels up. Those are the hard, dried, black peppercorns that we know and love.
Now, if you let those berries ripen then you're creating what will likely become white pepper. These ripe berries are then picked and soaked through a process called retting in which the outer skin softens and then with a little rubbing essentially falls away. The light-colored inner berry is then dried and that becomes white pepper.
Why does it matter? It matters in terms of taste and aesthetics. First, the taste. White pepper has a muskier and sharper taste profile versus its black counterpart. It is the 'it' factor when it comes to making Chinese food and really getting it to taste restaurant quality. My fried rice is never good enough until I add the ground white pepper. It is also used extensively in Thai and Portuguese cuisines.
White pepper can also give you the taste you would like from black pepper without the black flecks. Say you are making a light, creamy sauce and you don't want to change the color. Then go for the white pepper.
Keep in mind you don't want to let go of black pepper entirely. Remember that the outer layer has other nutritional properties that are healthy and healing. We'll get into that soon along with what green, pink, and red peppercorns are all about. For now, go grab some white pepper and let's get cooking!
Here are a few recipes for you to try:
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November 28, 2023