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Pink Peppercorns and Bali Long Pepper

Pink peppercorns and Bali long pepper — two particularly striking alternatives to the standard peppercorn.

Peppercorn berries may have originated in India, but plenty of other places around the word have sought similar spice qualities in local plants that are now also called peppercorns. In Part 1 of our series on this “king of spices” we looked at the wide range of peppercorns available from the piper nigrum plant. In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at five other well known types of peppercorns that are not to be confused with “true” peppercorn berries.

 

Pink Peppercorns

Perhaps the most popular type of alternative pepper is the pink peppercorn. This is actually not a peppercorn in the traditional sense but instead the berry of a plant in a completely different family called shinus melle, also known as the Peruvian pepper tree. It was originally discovered in South America but now it is mostly cultivated in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia. It is a very lightweight berry with a paper thin outer husk encasing a hard kernel. The flavor has the initial bite like green or black peppercorn but is then finished by a very fruity sweet flavor. Pink peppercorns are best used to finish a dish (especially foie gras). They can also be used in baking or in light sauces, however, you don’t want to cook them for too long or at high temperatures since they easily lose their complexity. Since they are particularly soft, skip the spice grinder and try crushing them by hand or in a mortar and pestle to preserve some of their texture. In terms of quality, it is best to look for berries that are mostly intact with very few separated husks since they tend to break apart easily with age and then quickly lose their flavor.

 

Bali Long Pepper

A rather visually fascinating form of peppercorn is the long peppercorn. These peppercorns are from the same family as the traditional peppercorns of the piper nigrum plant but are in fact their own species. This inch-long bud fruit is made of hundreds of tiny seeds that surround a core stem. Their taste is like mild pepper and mild ginger combined. It is great in sweet-spicy dishes to highlight both sides of its flavor, as well as in stews. These peppercorns can both be roughly chopped or ground to extract their full flavor. Try substituting these for traditional peppercorns in any recipe to create a different and unique flavor profile. It is also great in fresh salads and coleslaws in which their complexities are not cooked away.

 

Comet's Tail, Tasmanian and Sichuan Peppercorns

Three more varieties of peppercorn not from the piper nigrum plant: Comet’s Tail Peppercorns, Tasmanian Peppercorns, and Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Sichuan Peppercorns

Also called Szechuan peppercorns or “numbing spice,” these peppercorns are actually the rinds of the fruit of a shrub in the prickly ash family. Generally used in Chinese cuisine, they are very aromatic with a strong peppery flavor alongside citrusy notes that help break down fatty foods. As their alternate name suggests, they also have unique numbing qualities and should be used sparingly so as to not overwhelm your dish (or your palate). They are best roasted to release their aromatics.

 

Comet’s Tail Peppercorns

From the same family as traditional peppercorns, these peppercorns are quite rare. They are from the island of Java in Indonesia where they mature on the vine until they are a bright yellow-redish color. They are then handpicked with their stem still attached (hence their name) and sun-dried on bamboo mats. The flavor combines that of a traditional black peppercorn with a citrusy sweetness and notes of lavender, cloves, and nutmeg. They also have a distinct cooling somewhat bitter menthol felling on the tongue. They are used instead of black pepper in many curry dishes, and also as a substitute to allspice or clove.

 

Tasmanian Peppercorns

Also known as Australian Mountain Pepper, these peppercorns come from the Tasmania lanceolata plant, unrelated to piper nigrum. Rarely found outside Australia, they have a unique peppery sweetness that is great atop gamey meats. Since they are typically softer than black peppercorns they may gum up a pepper mill and are best ground instead with a mortar and pestle.

 

Kim Beaty is an avid home chef and outdoorsman, and a Spice Buyer, Assistant Pastry Chef and classroom instructor at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Green, Black and White Peppercorns

Green, Tellicherry Black, and Muntok White Peppercorns

Experimenting with herbs and spices in everyday cooking can be very intimidating. When I first became a spice buyer, I myself was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless number of herb and spice varieties that are out there, and it wasn’t until I was preparing to teach my first spice class at Formaggio Kitchen that I truly delved into one of the spice world’s most basic yet versatile berries: the peppercorn.

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Italian Olive Oils

A selection of some of our Italian olive oils — left to right: Raineri Unfiltered, Salustri Olivastra, Madonna Antonia, Podere San Biagio, and La Bandiera

The other night, while having dinner with a friend, she said “I’m not buying Italian olive oil anymore because of all the fraud – I just can’t trust it.” and my head just about exploded.

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Syrups - Lyle's Golden Syrup, Steen's Molasses, Muddy Pond Sorghum and Steen's Cane Syrup

Walking into Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Exotic products, tight corners and packed shelves can lead to missed goodies and overlooked treats. This holds true in the bakery, too. Right now, we have four different baking syrups and, at first glance, you might wonder why you would buy one over another? Curious myself, I did a bit of research and in this post, I share what I gleaned. I’m going to breakdown each syrup into its profile, process, and when to use it, so that you can decide with confidence about what to choose for your next baking venture. (more…)

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Selection of Butters at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge

Most of us love butter. It melts beautifully on a piece of toast, it gives wonderful flavor to both sweet and savory goods and provides a preferred mouthfeel to the likes of buttercream frosting. Here at the shop, we carry quite a variety of butters and sometimes folks ask us what distinguishes them from each other – a very fair question! (more…)

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Vecchia Dispensa Balsamic Vinegars

Vinegars from La Vecchia Dispensa

As I mentioned in my prior post, Balsamico Tradizionale offers the best chance to taste some of the purest expression of true balsamic vinegar. One of the reasons for this is the thoughtful regulations governing the production of Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, which dictate a range of protections – from the grapes varieties that must be used, to the style of bottle.

Once you move beyond the world of Balsamico Tradizionale into the less controlled world of non-tradizionale balsamics, things get more complicated. Historically, the category of balsamic, balsamico or balsamic vinegar consisted of products with levels of quality all over the map. Some careful producers, employing traditional methods, produced balsamics with beautiful balance and depth of flavor. At the same time, large, industrial producers sold balsamics using inexpensive ingredients and time-saving technologies to maximize profits, capitalizing on the balsamic name. (more…)

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Battery of Barrels used to age balsamicThere are many forms of balsamic vinegar on supermarket shelves these days. The most industrial forms can be made anywhere with a variety of ingredients that may or may not contain concentrated grape must, wine vinegar, sugar and caramel coloring. For this reason, it is often difficult to grasp the differences between a $10 bottle of balsamic vinegar and a $40 bottle of balsamic or even a $150 bottle. (more…)

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