Peppercorns were so important to the Tamils of Sri Lanka thousands of years ago that they were considered more valuable than pearls. In Medieval France, where peppercorns were more valued than gold, dock workers handling the cargo of ships arriving from India were required to wear pants and jackets without pockets or cuffs to prevent peppercorn smuggling.

Today we might value our pearl necklaces more than our jars of black pepper, but that doesn’t make it any less critical to countless dishes whose flavor is heightened and more nuanced with the addition of pepper in its green, black, and white incarnations. All true peppercorns are derived from the Piper nigrium, a flowering vine native to southern India and Sri Lanka that today flourishes throughout tropical areas in Asia and Africa.

Pink peppercorns, which impart a peppery floral flavor and are beloved for their festive rose color, are not actually peppercorns but rather a berry from the Schinus molle, a flowering bush from South America that now thrives in many southern American states.

The peppercorn of the true peppercorn plant varies in color and flavor depending upon its stage of ripeness. No matter its stage of maturity, all peppercorn varieties are high in manganese, vitamin K, copper, fiber, and iron.

Green Peppercorns

This is the unripe peppercorn berry that is highly perishable. Due to their delicate nature, green peppercorns are commonly pickled in brine soon after they are harvested to maintain their shelf life. They are enjoyed in savory dishes throughout Southeast Asia and are a frequent grilled steak dancing partner in Europe and America.

Black Peppercorns

Black peppercorns are green peppercorns that have oxidized as a result of the dehydration process. They are boiled in hot water before they are spread out on drying racks to be sun-dried. Egyptians used black pepper as one of their mummification spices and until it found its way into countless dishes throughout the world, it was primarily used as a medicinal ingredient. Black pepper remains the most widely consumed spice on the planet.

White Peppercorns

White peppercorns are harvested and boiled in water in the same manner as black peppercorns. The difference is that the skin of the white peppercorn is removed before it’s dehydrated. Many professional chefs prefer white peppercorns to black for aesthetic reasons and because it is mellower in flavor than its fiery black counterpart.

Since variety is the spice of life, here are six recipes featuring these different types of peppercorns.

1. Black Pepper Lavash

Chowhound

Wow guests with homemade lavash spiked with cracked black pepper that is addictively crunchy. Get our Black Pepper Lavash recipe.

2. Spaghetti with Green Peppercorns

The simplicity of this four-ingredient dish belies its complex flavor, enabling the vibrant green peppercorns to find their footing in a straightforward foundation of pasta, olive oil, and crunchy sea salt.  Get the recipe.

3. Pepper-Crusted Filet Mignon

Chowhound

The bold flavors of green and black peppercorns come together in this statement-making filet mignon dish that aims to impress in just under fifteen minutes. Get our Pepper-Crusted Filet Mignon recipe.

4. Black Peppercorn Syrup

Chowhound

This is your new go-to ice cream drizzle and cocktail secret ingredient with its flash of peppery heat. Get our Black Peppercorn Syrup recipe.

5. Pink Peppercorn Panna Cotta with Macerated Cherries

Bon Appetit

Cherries and pink peppercorns form a perfect marriage of color and flavor in this elegant dessert recipe. Get the recipe.

6. White Pepper Ice Cream

Saveur

Pepper isn’t usually associated with sweet preparations such as this ice cream, but the unexpected heat of white peppercorns in this recipe is the perfect summertime foil for the rich cream and egg yolk base. Get the recipe.

— Head photo: Pixabay.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of JodyEddy.com, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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