Black pepper is everywhere, but doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. India, right? Why are we so concerned with where some food comes from but not others? Black peppercorns adorn dinner tables around the world, yet their origins, their terroirs, are rarely discussed. This may be why there are so many myths about black peppercorns. A quick response to the question, “where does black pepper come from,” will highlight just how important this question is. And where better to start than with the two most famous pepper varietals: Malabar Pepper and Tellicherry Pepper.
Black peppercorn varietals are particularly place-based: their most distinguishing features tend to derive from where they are grown and processed. The pepper vine in general, piper nigrum, originated in the hills around Kerala, in southwestern India, where is has been dried into black, white, and green pepper for millennia. Learn more about the process here.
Kerala is, of course, the famed the Malabar coast, also called the “Spice Coast:” it’s where many spices, including cardamom and the peppercorn plant, grow, and where many more have been traded for thousands of years. And along the Malabar coast is a little town called Tellicherry.
Tellicherry pepper is simply named for the small, pepper-growing town on the northern coast of Kerala where spice merchants have traded for millennia (it seems Tellicherry is the name we settled on in English. The town itself goes by many names.), particularly for black peppercorns.
To receive and official Tellicherry peppercorn designation, the pepper plant must grow in this region. As an ancient spice terroir, this region is responsible for some of the highest grades of peppercorns– called Extra Bold– which are large, dense, and flavorful. A true Tellicherry peppercorn should be single-estate, that is to say, from a single farm or village, although many are in fact local blends.
Tellicherry peppercorns are sorted first by provenenance then by density and size. The larger and denser the black peppercorn, the more flavorful. Large peppercorns, or Grade 10, are some the hottest available, while Grade 12 are exceptionally rare and packed with flavor.
Tellicherry is the city and Malabar is the region. So logically, Malabar pepper comes from a wider range of places. More accurately, Malabar peppercorns are a blend of similar peppercorns from different regions, selected more because they are alike in appearance, size, and flavor than they are alike in geographic origin. Think of Malabar pepper as a nice, blended scotch or wine. And just like with wine or spirits, “blended” doesn’t necessarily translate to low-quality: the quality of a Malabar peppercorn blend depends very much on the blender themselves.
Telicherry pepper and Malabar pepper are two of the most popular black peppercorn varietals for good reason: they are familiar and reliable table peppers that are packed with pepper flavor. Learning these two means opening yourself to the world of other Indian varietals: Mlamala, Rajakumari, or Shimoga black peppercorns. Better yet, explore the well-rounded flavor of Madagascar black pepper, or the bite of Sri Lankan. You can even try a taste test of several different pepper spices!
And when the day comes the young ones ask, “where do peppercorns come from?” You can respond, “which kind?”
It’s true that brunch is enjoyed all year, but the Holidays make a great occasion to brunch at home with the whole family under one roof. It’s also a great chance to make a meal for that cousin you didn’t get a chance to see or a friend who was on vacation. If you really want to succeed, we suggest a combination of sweet and savory dishes, most of which can be prepared the day before. The less-experienced diners will probably throw themselves into the sausages and eggs en cocotte, while the old adepts are more likely to enjoy their holiday with the delicious orange and melon salad, or, better still, with another cup of cardamom coffee!
The best parties are usually linked to the kitchen in some way. If you want to enjoy your gathering as much as your guests, standing around the table, lined up at the kitchen island, or huddled around the oven, it pays to have a course of canapés and hors d’oeuvres to share. With a little organization, you can have everything ready ahead of time, or at least minimize the last-minute work you have to do when your guests arrive. Ideally, you’d serve both hot and cold dishes, and even play around with textures and colors! Don’t neglect cocktails, while still keeping those who don’t drink alcohol in mind. For a stress-free evening, ask your guests to serve a morsel or two and let them serve (and re-serve!) themselves.
True connoisseurs already have all they need, and know best how to satisfy their own developed tastes, or so they think. People who really enjoy cooking, however, never tire of discovering new, rare spices or terroirs. And, with luck, you’ll even get to taste the fruits of their new discoveries! Our Grand Cru Pepper Trio brings together three exceptional black peppers, sure to please both staunch traditionalists and adventurous cooks alike. For those who are always on the hunt for rare, mysterious spices, we recommend our Japanese yuzu or even our Korean pepper threads. Stick to classic gifts like Lemon Herb Fleur de Sel or a ceramic salt cellar signed by Arik de Vienne, or even an 8-spice chai, fragranced with vanilla. West Indian bay leaf, is just as aromatic as its better-known cousin, Mediterranean bay leaf, and also presents surprising notes of citrus and clove. Of course, for us, it’s not really a holiday without a real spice blend: the fragrant Ethiopian Berbere and the traditional Ras-el-Hanout are sure to please anyone who’s excited by aromas both subtle and complex.
Jams, cookies, pickles… handmade goodies are always the best! They’re not just less expensive than store-bought foods, they make excellent last-minute gifts for anyone, be it a child’s favorite teacher, a coworker, or whoever invites you over for New Year’s Eve. It never takes a lot of time and is always well appreciated by your loved ones. Pick a weekend afternoon, park yourself in the kitchen and get the whole family to pitch in! And you should always make more than you think you need: it’s great to have an extra jar of stuffed dates or truffles nearby to offer unexpected visitors (or even to treat yourself once the holidays are over).
Start your holiday planning with these suggestions!
Eating like a Spice Trekker is easier than you think! In their new book, Ethné and Philippe invite you into their kitchen to explore the dishes that comprise their family meals. The recipes presented are both gluten and dairy free, all while ensuring their deliciousness and encouraging the joy of sharing food with others. The menu presented here uses the cookbook’s recipe variations, which we assure you will please both hardcore paleo eaters as well as your fickler diners. We also like the idea of serving a soup after a cold fish dish and a few salads, which can simply be placed on the table so each guest can serve themselves. Swap your turkey and potatoes for a pork tenderloin with parsnip and finish with a fun, festive dessert.
It’s a well-known fact that foodies are easy to please, particularly if they have a sweet tooth! If you have someone in your family who’s always putting some pie or tray of cookies in the oven, our Dessert Spice Trio is all you need. If you’re in more of a DIY mood, a bottle of Vanilla Extract or West Indian Extract is a perfect gift- all you have to do is fill it with alcohol. Feeling like venturing into more unfamiliar territory? Try our Chai Spice Blend or even Silk Road, both of which are sure to enhance any dessert. If you’re even thinking about making chocolate cookies or brownies at home, be sure to add some of our Oaxacan Chocolate Spices. Success is guaranteed!
Whether you’re looking for a kit to impress a connoisseur, a new tea to give your sister-in-law, or something special to fill your stocking, we’ve got everything you need to please your tea-loving friends and their ilk. For fans of chai and fragranced teas, we recommend this original and varied Spiced Tea kit. If the tea drinkers around you have more adventurous palates and more obscure interests, you’ll get everything you need from our Rare Teas kit. Jasmine Pearls make a great gift for your host or hostess. Nomi Shiang and Payachakra may be less famous, but they’re sure to excite the travelers around you. If you really want to have some fun, give someone these magnificent, handmade tea tasting cups made by Arik de Vienne.