We had friends stay with us last weekend, and so kel prepared a recipe – slow cooked beef – that called for pink peppercorns. In fact, we couldn’t find them for sale in the supermarket, so we settled for a tin of Green peppercorns. I’d never heard of either before.
You’ve probably never thought about pepper very much – I know I haven’t.
A lot of Australian cooking never involves a pepper grinder – it stays on the shelf (if there’s even one in the house). If pepper is ever added to anything, it’s the ground variety that is cautiously added from a pepper shaker. Growing up, we had salt and pepper shakers on the table: the salt was often used (though even as kids we were discouraged from adding too much of it), but the pepper was a bit too hot, so we left it alone.
As it turns out, pepper loses a lot of its flavour very soon after it’s ground, so if you want to use pepper in cooking, you should grind it straight away.
My main encounter with freshly ground pepper was (predictably) in cafes – with their giant pepper grinders. A waitress offering "Cracked Pepper?" lends some theatre to ordering a meal. Some cafes seem to be in competition to see who can have the largest pepper grinder: they can grow to over half a metre in size!
When my interest in cooking expanded, I started to buy pepper from the supermarket. The more your cooking hobby expands, the more likely you are to be sent on a massive quest to find apparently simple ingredients. The pink peppercorns definitely fit this category: innocent sounding, but hard to find.
When you buy a supermarket pepper grinder (Masterfoods, for instance, sells pepper in a spice jar, with a grinder attachment on the top), after a lifetime of thinking that pepper exists in powder form, you finally get to see actual peppercorns. They live inside a clear jar – not an opaque grinder – waiting for the grinding blades to slice them up. When the supermarket sells out of black peppercorns, you might find yourself buying the (nearly identical) "peppercorn medley": most of the peppercorns are black, and there are a few flecks of Green and Pink within the little jar.
This, it seems, is the closest it’s possible to get to Pink Peppercorns in a supermarket. Extending my search to the web, though, I found Pink Peppercorns for sale amongst White, Green, and Black peppercorns.
It seems that white, green, and black peppercorns are all from the same plant: the plant has berries, and depending on how you treat them, they end up in different forms. Black and green are the berries, dried in different ways. White peppercorns also differ in that their outer husk has been removed – it seems like a lot of effort for something that is sold so cheaply!
The only exception to this list? Pink peppercorns: they’re actually form a completely different plant. From what I’ve read, they have a much milder flavour, that’s easily overpowered, so putting them in with other peppercorns tends to drown them out.