The past is, well, peppered with stories detailing the impact the humble peppercorn has had on human history. Its importance cannot be understated and every day, around the world, people pinch, grind, sprinkle and crush another weave into this great tapestry. The most common pepper in Australia is black pepper and while the types of peppercorns could have its very own multi-volume dictionary, what we are focusing on here is the standard black, white, pink and green peppercorns. Mostly this is because, wait for it, they’re the same thing!
Well, sort of, anyway. Let’s explain.
All four peppercorns are the same fruit of a climbing vine plant which is native to India (more specifically, Southern India). What dictates what we see on the shelves depends on when the fruit is picked and how it is processed post-harvest.
The unripe berries of the vine are picked while still green. They are boiled to retain their colour and flavour and then dried. The green peppercorn has woodier flavours and works well in a peppercorn mix.
The green, unripe berries are harvested and left out in the sun to dry, turning the small berries black. As a result of this process, the blackened skins volatile oils change resulting in the formation of ‘piperine’, which produces the characteristic flavour of black pepper.
The berry is left to ripen on the vine, then it’s harvested and the skin is removed (leading to the white colour) before the berry is dried. White pepper is hotter in taste and as it is the skin that contains the familiar ‘piperine’, the white peppercorn has a different taste to the black peppercorn.
This is the fully ripe version of the berry. It can not be dried and so is only sold in a brine solution.