WHAT ARE PEPPERCORNS?
The most popular spice in the world is actually a fruit yielded by the Piperaceae vine! Originally from Asia over 4,000 years ago, this spice is available in a rainbow of colors. The classic black peppercorn is picked when it’s starting to change from an immature green to a yellow color. It’s then fermented and dried giving it a more potent flavor. Green ones are dried while still unripened, and white is from a more ripened version (but with the skin removed). Red peppercorns are the most mature of the bunch turning red on the vine (or pink) when finally ripe. This spice has at times been a popular folk remedy, used as a form of currency, and even stuffed in the nostrils of mummified Egyptian emperors! Historically peppercorns have often been confused with chili peppers despite the different type of spiciness.
WHY ARE PEPPERCORNS GOOD FOR YOU?
While pepper does irritate your nostrils and cause sneezing, it has a number of health benefits. Research is still ongoing, but pepper is thought to be a possible bio-enhancer. That means it aids your body’s ability to absorb other crucial vitamins and minerals. It’s also been used as a homeopathic treatment for pain, intestinal discomfort and various other ailments.
WHEN ARE PEPPERCORNS IN SEASON?
There’s a reason why countries like Vietnam, India and Brazil are the primary producers. These vines require hot, humid temperatures and plenty of rainfall to propagate. They also require shade and so are often grown adjacent to other trees like coffee or banana. They are perennials and grow year-round in the right climate.
HOW SHOULD PEPPERCORNS BE STORED?
Like most spices in a cool, dry place in your kitchen cupboard. Use an airtight seal if possible to prevent moisture from being absorbed. Whole peppercorns can also be frozen but make sure to use an airtight bag.
WHY IS FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER BETTER?
Once a peppercorn is ground and exposed to oxygen, the chemical process of oxidation occurs. This is just a fancy way of saying “exposed to oxygen.” The oxygen molecules bond with various chemicals in the freshly ground pepper. These awesome flavors then dissipate over time. The result is a much blander spice.