WHAT IS IT?
White pepper (Piper nigrum) is the seed from the berry of a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. White peppercorns are left to fully ripen, and have the husks removed. The finishing process, known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing the peppercorns further removes what remains of the fruit. The seed is then dried.
White pepper is fundamentally different than most other peppercorns. Known for its sharper pungency and spicy heat, LESS IS MORE. Do not use it as a 1:1 swap for black pepper.
It can produce a useful bitter/sharp at high cooking temps, which finds it in the best steakhouse steaks, but it is added as a finish in many recipes requiring some delicacy, from mashed potatoes to omelettes needing its pungency without the bitter.
The ground pepper, due to its preparation methods, maintains its flavor for a long time. The peppercorns are useful for recipes that require marination or brining, or where multiple seeds are being incorporated together, but the ground is a staple of any kitchen.
Peppercorns are native to south India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. There are several varieties.
Currently, Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper. Plantations have doubled and tripled over the years. In 1930s, Brazil became a prime producer of this condiment in the Western hemisphere, but the best product still
These are very rarely found outside of Asia and are prized for their flavor:
- Muntok – Indonesia
- Sawawak – Malaysia
- Malabar – India
- Tellicherry – India (Usually seen in the US as a black peppercorn)
- Added to mashed potatoes at some of the best steakhouses in the world for a bit of pungent pop without the discoloration of black pepper
- Common to Chinese and American-Chinese cuisine, the pop in your Hot & Sour soup and General Tso’s Chicken.
- Cream soups and vegetable soup pureés in French cuisine;
- Swedish meatballs’ pop
- Used in dishes with lighter colors, simply because it doesn’t discolor food like black pepper
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Part of my Steakhouse Holy Trinity seasoning of salt, white pepper and onion powder
- Add to the finish of vegetables from ratatouille to sauteed green beans
- Dusting over steamed asparagus placed into my asparagus spear omelette brings a little pungent accent
- A pinch accompanying recipes that call for nutmeg adds a bit of sharpness to that aromatic where it is needed.
White pepper is one of the world’s oldest spices.In Southeast Asia, it arrived on the spice scene as early as twenty-one hundred years ago. It was a precious spice, so much so that it was used to pay ransom in the kidnappings of early fifth century Rome. A Sanskrit word, pepper figuratively means “energy.” Also where the early twentieth century slang for energy, “pep” originates.
- Vitpeppar – Sweden
- Pepe bianco – Italy, Spanish-speaking countries
- 白胡椒 – China
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