After yesterday’s post on spicy spices, I thought it would be good to expand on one of the most commonly used ones – pepper.
The black pepper most of us have on our tables or in our cupboards is the dried berry of a tropical vine, Piper nigrum. But black pepper is not the only type of pepper we get from this plant – it also gives us green pepper, white pepper and pink pepper, depending on how the berries are treated.
Green pepper is the least treated of the peppers. It is made by freeze-drying or brining the unripe green berries, which contain the highest levels of pungent, spicy piperine.
Black pepper is also made from the unripe pepper berries. After blanching in hot water to release enzymes that turn the outer layer brown, then black, the berries are left in the sun for several days to dry out. Several compounds add to the flavour of black pepper (not just piperine) – limonene (also found in citrus fruit), pinene (found in pine trees) and linalool (found in flowers and herbs).
White pepper is made when the pepper berries are fully ripe. They are soaked in water so that bacteria break down the outer ‘fruit’ layer (that turns black in black pepper), which is then rubbed away and the pepper seed dried. The action of the bacteria changes the composition of volatile compounds in the pepper, so it contains more musty notes from chemicals like skatoles.
Pink pepper should not be confused with ‘pink peppercorns’. True pink pepper is made by preserving ripened pepper berries. Pink peppercorns come from a relative of the mango plant, and their irritant compound is cardanol rather than piperine.