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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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Daphnis and Chloe Herbs: Bay Leaf, Oregano Taygetus, Thyme Blossoms, Greek Mountain Tea

Daphnis and Chloe Herbs:
Bay Leaf, Oregano Taygetus, Thyme Blossoms, Greek Mountain Tea

When I first became the spice buyer at Formaggio Kitchen I was so excited to delve deeper into the incredible, international world of spices. However, the more I traveled, learned and sampled, the more I realized that the spice industry is primarily made up of large producers more concerned with the bottom line than the quality of their product. It became a personal mission of mine to find small scale producers that match the quality-driven philosophy we hold so dear at Formaggio Kitchen. While it was difficult at first, I soon found equally passionate folks dedicated to producing spices of the highest quality. Slowly but surely our selection has transformed, with each little package of herb or spice now representing a regional culinary history and, more often than not, the unique and inspiring story of a passionate producer.

One such story is that of Daphnis and Chloe. Aptly named after a second century Greek love story, this small company introduces customers to Greece’s culinary history through their rare and unique varieties of indigenous herbs and spices. The Greek Archipelago provides natural isolation, allowing for different, ancient varieties of herbs and spices to develop unique characteristics particular to one island alone. Evangelia, the founder of Daphnis and Chloe, first captured my attention with some of the most remarkable oregano that I have ever tried. She found them by combing through the many different isles, working with foragers and organic cultivators to source the most extraordinary varieties.

Evangelia tells the store of Daphnis and Chloe best herself:

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Scenes in India

Staff members here at Formaggio Kitchen regularly travel the world to seek out the unique products that we carry. While our trips have tended to focus on Europe, my colleague Tim and I recently had the opportunity to travel to India (a first for both of us!).  We were able to make the trip thanks largely to a small business grant from British Airways that gave us 10 round-trip tickets for use this year.

The primary motivation for our trip was to visit tea country. Initially, we looked into visiting the region of Assam – flat and plains-like, it is well-known for its tea. However, eventually we decided to explore the region of Darjeeling – mountainous, cool and verdant, it is nestled in the skinny part of India that sits between Nepal and Bangladesh. (more…)

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