All About Pepper
Pepper is a flowering vine cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed.
Peppercorns, and the powdered pepper derived from grinding them, may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper, white pepper, or green pepper. Green peppercorns are simply the immature black peppercorns. Black peppers are native to India and are extensively cultivated in the Malabar region.
Black Malabar and Black Tellicherry pepper…Peppercorns are often categorized under a label describing their region or port of origin. Two well-known types come from India's Malabar Coast: Malabar pepper and Tellicherry pepper. Tellicherry is a higher-grade pepper, made from the largest, ripest 10% of fruits from Malabar plants grown on Mount Tellicherry. Both Tellicherry pepper and Malabar pepper come from the same plant and are harvested at the same time. Tellicherry peppers are the larger of the two and will have matured further before the harvest, benefiting from a better location on the vine and thereby receiving more sunlight.
Once picked, it takes about a week for the peppercorns to dry in the sun. During this time, they will lose a share of their flavor in the process. Until recent years, all pepper drying was done this way. Nowadays it is not uncommon for pepper to be rapidly air-dried indoors. Interestingly enough, this new technology brings with it the benefit of less flavor loss. Thus, today's peppers are fresher, cleaner and more full-bodied than ever before and allow the farmers to fetch a higher price.
Although the size of the peppercorn is very important to garnering the name, "Tellicherry", the maturity of the peppercorn is the ultimately all-deciding factor. It is the extra-ripening time that the Tellicherry peppercorn receives that increases the percentage of essential oils in the fruit and makes it taste so aromatic.
White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried.
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Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe drupes. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green color. Pickled peppercorns, also green, are unripe drupes preserved in brine or vinegar.
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Pink peppercorns are not true peppercorns but actually the dried berries from the Baies rose plant. They're cultivated in Madagascar and imported via France, hence their exorbitant price. These rose-hued berries are pungent and slightly sweet. Pink peppercorns are used as colorful, flavorful additions to a variety of salads, sauces, meat and fish dishes. They should not, however, be confused with pink berries (also referred to as peppercorns) from an ornamental plant in Florida and California.
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