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Plant name: Piper nigrum
Indian name: Kali mirchi
Black pepper is produced from the unripe berries of the pepper plant while they are still green. The berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures cell walls in the fruit, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the fruit around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer, the result of a fungal reaction. Once dried, the fruits are called black peppercorns. Black pepper has a fine pungent, fruity fragrance with warm woody notes. The taste is hot and clean with a strong aftertaste.
White pepper consists of the seed only, with the fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by allowing fully ripe berries to soak in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the fruit softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. Alternative processes are used for removing the outer fruit from the seed, including removal of the outer layer from black pepper produced from unripe berries. White pepper can be slightly musty and is what is normally sold as finely ground pepper.
Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe berries. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a manner that retains the green colour, such as treatment with sulphur dioxide or freeze drying. Pickled peppercorns, also green, are unripe berries preserved in brine or vinegar. Fresh, unpreserved green pepper berries, largely unknown in the West, are used in some Asian cuisines, particularly Thai cuisine. Their flavour has been described as piquant and fresh, with a bright aroma. They decay quickly if not dried or preserved. Green peppers have a light aroma and a fresh taste. They go well with fish.
Green and red peppercorns should be kept refrigerated.
Grind peppercorns with a coffee grinder as and when you need them.
This was drummed into me on my various Indian cookery classes, back in the day: If any recipe calls for black pepper and some form of frying / sautéing / cooking in oil or butter, whatever the recipe says, add your black pepper to the oil. It will flavour the oil, which then does a far better job of flavouring the food than adding it at the end.
- Almost any food!
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