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What Are Red Peppercorns ? What Do They Taste Like ?

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So many kinds of peppercorns out there and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed trying to understand them all. Today we’re tackling red peppercorns, and also discussing how they’re different from pink peppercorns and Sichuan peppercorns, and how to tell all of these apart. 

What are red peppercorns ?

Red peppercorns are the mature fruit of the Piperum nigrum plant, or the black pepper plant. The peppercorns are allowed to develop to maturity, as opposed to being harvested when still green as is usual for black pepper. These peppercorns are usually preserved in brine, though you can also find them dried like black or green pepper, and they retain their red color. 

Red peppercorns are not common, so getting a hold of them isn’t easy unless you’re buying from a specialty shop. Do not confuse red peppercorns with pink peppercorns, which are entirely different and taste different. They’re also very different from Sichuan peppercorns, which are also red but have a vastly different texture. I’ll get to those in a minute. First let’s see…

What do red peppercorns taste like ?

Red peppercorns have a much milder flavor than black peppercorns, with more of a fruity note to them. They’re not as overwhelming as black pepper but they are still noticeable. 

Are red peppercorns spicy ?

Yes, red peppercorns are still spicy but chances are you won’t get them on their own, they will likely come in a pepper medley. So if you’re worried about the amount of heat, it will be pretty even throughout the medley, regardless of cracking a red or black or green pepper. 

Read also: Is Black Pepper A Nightshade ?

Red, pink, and Sichuan peppercorns

True red peppercorns are extraordinarily rare on the market. If you do have red peppercorns, chances are they’re in fact pink peppercorns. Those are sold a type of berry that is closely related to cashews, and resembles the flavor of pepper without the heat. In fact pink peppercorns have a mild sweetness and nuttiness to them, which makes them great for desserts. 

If you’re any kind of allergic to nuts, especially cashews, you want to avoid pink peppercorns !

left- true red peppercorns, middle – pink peppercorns, right – Sichuan pepper

You can tell the difference between pink and red peppercorns by looking at the texture. Pink peppercorns may appear dark pink/red in some lights, but they will almost always be perfectly round and mostly smooth, with maybe a bump here or there. Red peppercorns are more of a rust color, and they’re wrinkly and bumpy all over, like a black peppercorn.

This difference in texture comes from the outer skin of the peppers. True red pepper has a very thin outer skin that shrivels up when the peppercorn is dried,  while pink pepper remains detached from the fruit inside, and can easily flake off. 

If you’re wondering why pink peppercorns are marketed as pepper when in fact they are not, it’s because back when the spice trade started, these were considered to be similar enough in flavor to actually pas for peppercorns, despite coming from a different plant altogether.

What about Sichuan peppercorns ?

True red peppercorns are rusty and wrinkly, pink peppercorns are smooth, flaky and deep pink, so what about Sichuan peppercorns ? These aren’t real peppercorns either, but they are used as such. 

Sichuan pepper is actually related to citrus trees ! As a result its flavor is very different from all the other peppercorns, with a mild citrusy flavor that you don’t get to notice too much because it quickly numbs the mouth. Sichuan pepper has a spicy-numb effect, and it can even modify how you perceive some flavors. 

You tell apart red and pink peppercorns from Sichuan peppers by looking at their outer skin. Sichuan pepper has a bumpy reddish-brown outer skin that is often cracked open, with a beige inside. Think of a tiny, tiny lychee only the inside fruit is black instead of white. 

There are two main types of Sichuan pepper, red and green. Red Sichuan pepper is mature, has a better developed flavor and is less spicy than the green one. The green has a milder flavor but stronger numbing effect.

Read also: Black VS Green Peppercorns 

Don’t confuse red peppercorns with red pepper flakes

Another important red player in the spice field, red pepper flakes or chili flakes offer incredible heat but are wildly different from red peppercorns. Red pepper flakes are dried and ground red hot peppers, such as red chilies, red jalapenos, dried ghost peppers, and so on. Sometimes the red flakes also include some seeds, which are also hot. 

While red peppercorns, or peppercorns in general, are more of an Asian cuisine staple, hot peppers (including red pepper flakes) are more of a Central and South American cuisine staple. Of course, as trades were established both spices reached all over the world, but traditionally those were their starting points. 

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