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Black VS Green Peppercorns & Their Flavors

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Black peppercorns are what most people know and what most people think of when they see a recipe calls for pepper. But there are a few other options, and one of the is green peppercorns. This means there’s got to be some differences between green and black peppercorns, so here they are and what they’re best at.

Black vs green peppercorns 

Black peppercorns are hotter than green peppercorns, and they have a more complex aroma. Green peppercorns are slightly immature and have a much milder flavor, more floral and less pungent. Green peppercorns are very mild in heat, compared to black pepper corns, and they resemble capers a little in flavor. 

So if you want heat, black peppercorn is better. If you want a milder heat with a good herb/floral note green peppercorns are a better option. 

What are black peppercorns ?

Black peppercorns are the unripe fruit of the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum). The peppercorns are cooked in hot water for a very short time, a bit longer than blanching. The aim is to weaken the cell walls, so they will allow the peppercorn to shrivel and dry up. This turns the fruit dark brown/black, hence the name. 

The cooking and drying process removes much of the floral and herb-like aroma of the pepper, resulting in the spicy and pungent flavor people associate with black pepper.  

If you’re wondering why peppercorns are dried, it’s mainly to preserve the spice since fresh peppercorns do not store well. They can rehydrate but not completely, and unless you crack them they won’t impart much heat, just flavor. 

Black peppercorns can be used in pretty much anything, but keep in mind the more you add the spicier the food. But flavor comes along with the heat, so if you don’t want as much pepper flavor in your food, consider using hot peppers instead. They give a lot of heat, and don’t overwhelm the food with their flavor. 

Read also: Are Green Peppers Spicy ? 

What are green peppercorns ?

Green peppercorns are the same exact fruit as black peppercorns, only they are handled differently before drying. Most commonly they’re treated with sulfur dioxide to retain their green color on the outer skin, before drying the fruit. It’s the skin of the fruit that has the floral, fresh aroma associated with green peppercorns. Cooking the skin would change the flavor a lot, so the sulfur dioxide method is best in this scenario. 

Green peppercorns (dried) have a mildly floral or herb-like aroma, with more brightness and less pungency than black pepper. Canned green pepper, in brine or vinegar, may remind you of artichokes or capers a little. 

Green peppercorns are best in white sauces, and are especially good at cutting through the richness of cheese, dark meat, any smoked meat, and pair exceptionally well with potatoes. The best dish that I remember with green peppercorns was roast potatoes with pork tenderloin in a green peppercorn white sauce. Simple, but very effective and delicious. 

Peppercorn sauce on steak

A note on storing any peppercorns

When you buy peppercorns of any sort, they are usually dried, and in a sealed airtight packet. This is because pepper can and does lose its potency when exposed to air, so the more you keep the packets closed the more the flavor will linger.

I recommend you get a pepper mill, and refill it as you go. This way you get freshly ground pepper each and very time, and you can adjust the grind level to your preference.

Never get pre-ground pepper since it will lose its heat and potency incredibly fast while sitting on the table. All you’ll be left with is a fine dark grey dust that will only feel weird when you eat, and have no flavor. I know this because I lived like this in college and once I did splurge on a pepper mill I never went back. I’ve had the same mill for 3 years until the plastic grinder broke, at which point I bought a new one and it’s been a year so far. Better mills may cost a bit more but they are going to last you far longer. The cheapest spice mills run for about $3, empty, made of glass and a durable plastic grinder. 

Read also: Why Is Black Pepper So Common ? 

Can I use green peppercorns instead of black ?

Dried green peppercorns will give you similar results to dried black peppercorns. The green ones have a bit less heat, and more of a floral/fruity aroma, brighter than black peppercorn’s aroma. Green peppercorns taste differently than peppercorns are are a little less hot, so they wouldn’t be the best substitute if you’re looking for a perfect match. If your aim is to simply get a similar flavor without focusing on heat then green peppercorn will work very well in place of black. 

If you want to have heat in your food and don’t much care about the flavor, hot peppers (not peppercorns) will give you plenty of heat without using too much. If you want to, you can throw in a few green peppers just to emulate the flavor of black pepper.

In short, it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your peppercorns. In most cases green peppercorns will do just fine instead of black peppercorns, just expect a bit of a different flavor. 

Consider using a mixed peppercorn blend

Want to add more flavor to your spices, or simply up your pepper game ? The consider getting a mixed or mosaic pepper blend. This is usually a mix of at least two peppercorn versions, with the base being black peppercorn. You can add green, white, red, or pink peppercorns  or any combination of the four, to get more aroma but not necessarily more heat from your pepper. 

If you’re wondering how white, pink, and red pepper are different form black or green, here they are. White peppercorns are simply green peppercorns with their outer skin removed. They lose the floral fruity aroma and also some heat, so they retain a bit of acidity and may remind you of apple cider vinegar in flavor. 

Red peppercorns are fully mature peppercorns that have been treated like the green peppercorns to preserve their color, and then dried. They’re still hot and have a milder flavor than black peppercorn.

Pink peppercorns are not actual peppercorns, they’re a wholly different fruit closely related to the cashew family. Pink peppercorns are slightly sweet and nutty in flavor, with only a very mild resemblance to black pepper. Please note that if you have a cashew allergy you should not consume pink peppercorns. In fact it might be safe to steer clear of it if you have any nut allergy. Don’t fret though, this leaves you with green, red, and white peppercorns, which are flavorful on their own. 

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