The world of peppers is endlessly fascinating. This is why we spend so much time talking about it- and why we have such an expansive selection of peppers in our store. Pepper berries (Voatsiperifery and Sichuan peppercorns, among others) and their wild cousins may be the last word in spices, but sometimes it’s useful to go back to the beginning and witness the great journey pepper takes to get to our plate.
Pepper is the fruit of the plant piper nigrum, which presents a great stalk that can attain heights of up to 9 metres. The plant originated in the Malabar coast of India, in the Kerala region, but it’s now cultivated in a number of places, like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Madagascar. The fruit itself grows from a vine that loosely resembles a grapevine.
The same plant produces green, white, black and red peppers. What, then, is the difference between the four peppers? The real difference lies in the harvest time, which is linked to its process of transformation. The fruit comes to maturity about four months after the plant flowers. Pepper is harvested manually and the chosen time has a great impact on the flavour of the spice-to-be.
Once harvested, the pepper is laid out on great tarps to dry under the sun. The pepper is covered at night to protect it from humidity. Pepper drying takes anywhere between three days and a week. Certain producers (especially with large industrial production) now to choose to dry their pepper with the help of large drying machines, so the drying is finished the same day.
Next, the peppercorns are sorted according to their quality. The larger and denser a peppercorn is, the better it is. For example, we have two grades of quality for our Indian black Tellicherry pepper. The first qualifies as Extra Bold (EB, grade 10) is a large enough peppercorn, fruity, and with a lasting taste. Our Tellicherry Reserve (Grade 12) only includes the ripest peppercorns in each harvest, and is a fraction of the overall production. That’s what makes a special production for us.
Green Pepper is harvested early, and is therefore still immature. Once collected, it is dried. It’s also brined fresh, taking advantage of its sweetness and light crunch.
Black pepper is harvested as soon as it begins to mature. As the green fruit matures, it takes on a light yellow colour. It’s only in drying that the pepper takes on the dark tones that we know so well.
White pepper is only harvested at maturity. The pulp (also known as the pericarp) is removed by soaking. The pepper berries are placed in large bags that are then submerged in fresh running water. This light fermentation gives the pepper its white colour and the pronounced aroma that is its most pronounced characteristic.
Red pepper (not to be confused with pink pepper, a different variety of berry entirely) is the rarest. When the pepper berry achieves its peak maturity, it takes on a light red colour. It can then be dried until it turns a deep red. Sometimes, red pepper is dipped in boiling water to preserve its bright red colour. It has a sharp, fruity flavour. Its rarity is owed less to its unique culinary properties, but rather the need to wait until full maturity, which makes it less desirable for cultivators.
It is always fascinating to see how a single plant can offer so many culinary possibilities. Understanding the origins of all these different peppers means making better choices and, above all, getting more enjoyment out of pepper!