The pepper remains a vital and ever present spice in our kitchens today. Check any laid out table: there will be a cruet set with salt and pepper! Why not red chilli powder, at least in India, as Italians keep paprika?
Let me tell you right away - do go and get yourself this good quality pepper mill I have just mentioned. The plastic ones are not as effective or as durable as a wooden sturdy mill with a strong metal grinding apparatus. Go to any good Italian restaurant and you will be offered a large wooden pepper mill to sprinkle your pasta with freshly crushed peppercorns. Once you begin to use the peppercorns in the correct way, the flavour of your food will change for the better.
Peppercorns – black, white and green (and pink in brine too!) are an ancient spice. Records of the use of pepper go back as far as the 4th century BC. It has been mentioned as pippali in Sanskrit. Pepper probably changed the course of history, being the single most important factor in the European search for sea routes to the East.
India is the world’s foremost producer with Kerala’s Alleppey and Tellicherry varieties being the best. In the others count in the Singapore black pepper grown on the Malay peninsula. The Lampong from Indonesia, the Brazilian black peppercorns (outer skin is black and the center of the berry creamy white), the Chinese pepper and the Sri Lankan pepper (Ceylon pepper) are the best one can get around the world.
The pepper plant takes about eight years to reach maturity and, in good conditions, it will continue to bear fruit for up to 20 years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years. Green peppercorns are harvested while still unripe. Their flavour is somewhat milder and fruitier, but not entirely without spice. When totally sun dried they become the more commonly known and used black peppercorns. For white pepper the same berries are left on the plant until fully ripe and red in colour. They are then soaked and peeled to expose the inner white corns, which are then dried. The flavour is slightly less piquant than that of black pepper. White pepper is to be used in white sauces or soups or wherever specks of black pepper would mar the purity of colour; however, it contributes little but heat. The aromatic flavour of pepper resides largely in the skin, so unless you feel strongly about the presence of black specks in an austere white sauce, there is no need to buy white pepper!
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.