First of all, you may be surprised to learn that pink peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns at all. They’re actually the ripe berries of the Peruvian (schinus molle) and Brazilian (schinus terebinthifolius) pepper trees. However, they’re the same shape and size as regular peppercorns, as well as possessing a peppery flavour, so you’d have to be quite a pedant to call anybody out on their use of their common name.
Pink peppercorns are actually a member of the cashew family, which means anyone with a cashew allergy would be better off avoiding them. Wild Brazilian pink peppercorns can also cause irritations similar to poison ivy, but there’s no need to worry about that when using those cultivated for commercial consumption – especially when eating sensible amounts (i.e. not handfuls at a time).
Nevertheless, Brazilian pepper often gets a bad rap for that reason. In fact, it is considered an invasive species in Florida, where it was introduced as an ornamental plant in the late 19th century and is now known as “Florida Holly”.
The difference between pink and black peppercorns
Pink peppercorns have a similar flavour to black peppercorns, but they’re milder, slightly sweet and very fruity. They’re also great for adding colour to your dishes. As mentioned above, unlike their black cousins, pink peppercorns are not true peppercorns, but are the ripe berries of the Brazilian or Peruvian pepper tree. The same size and shape as 'real' peppercorns, they are marketed as 'pink peppercorns' despite being genetically closer to a cashew than the pepper spice family.
Pink peppercorn flavour
Whole pink peppercorns are quite pungent and, as such, are often mixed with black, green and/or white pepper more for their aesthetic qualities than for taste. That said, any decent chef should be able to harness the pink peppercorn’s flavour profile to complement both savoury and sweet dishes.
Pink pepper contains pinene, which is a natural insect-repellent found in conifers, citrus fruit peels, and even cannabis. This gives pink peppercorns a strong aroma of pine and citrus, with herby, floral and citric flavours. When using pink pepper for the first time, it’s important to note that they are spicy in a way more reminiscent of chilis than actual pepper. Be sure to go in knowing what to expect.
These flavours pair excellently with ingredients that overlap aromatically. This includes herbs and spices like cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, saffron, ginger, mint, basil, bergamot, lavender, lemongrass, and rosemary, as well as edible flowers like alliums and rosebuds. Pink peppercorns can also be used to enhance the flavours of citrus fruits, strawberries, pineapple, and pomegranate, as well as dairy foods like butter and cream, and even bacon, beef, chicken and white fish.
As you can see, pink pepper is a very versatile ingredient, and you shouldn’t be put off by its initial pungency and surprising sharpness.
Pink peppercorns occasionally get touted as a superfood but, although there might be some slight benefits, it’s important to note that, as far as a scientific consensus goes, the jury is still out.
What we do know is that pink peppercorns contain antioxidants and antibacterial essential oils. There is also some evidence to suggest that pink pepper can lower blood sugar and the risk of developing cancers.
However, eating amounts of pink pepper that are safe for consumption is unlikely to have a pronounced effect. Remember that pink peppercorns can have toxic side-effects when eaten in high doses, and cashew allergy sufferers should avoid them outright.
If you like the taste, enjoy them for that reason alone. One positive thing we can say for sure is that pink peppercorns offer a lot of flavour for very few calories. Just don’t expect to experience any life-changing health benefits, despite what the quacks say.
When to cook pink peppercorns: recipe ideas
Pink peppercorns should be used sparingly when floral, herby, citrusy and, of course, peppery flavours are called for. As mentioned above, its aroma can enhance both savoury and sweet courses. But it’s important not to go overboard or, as with any spice, you can easily ruin the dish.
A great example on how to use pink peppercorns is with this recipe for venison loin steak with red wine shallots. It ticks a couple of the right boxes. Each loin steak is wrapped in a rasher of bacon, which benefits from a hint of spice to back up the heft of its smoky flavour. The pink peppercorns also work well with the accompanying redcurrant jelly.
We’ve already covered the ingredients that can be enhanced by a sprinkling of pink pepper, but let’s conclude this article by revisiting them in an easily referenced list. They are:
Strong herbs, such as mint, basil, bergamot, lavender, lemongrass, bergamot, and rosemary.
Floral and woody spices, such as cardamom, cloves, saffron, cinnamon, and ginger.
Edible flowers, like alliums and rose petals or buds.
Berries and sharp fruits, like citrus, strawberries, pineapple, and pomegranate.
Fatty dairy, like butter and cream.
Meats, especially bacon, beef and chicken.
Fish, especially white-fleshed or salmon.
Now you know everything there is to know about pepper, you might want to learn a few things about the many different kinds of salt. Various types of gourmet salt come from all over the world. Maldon sea salt has been harvested in the English town of Maldon since Roman times and is prized for its clean, fresh flavour. Black salt, perfect for vegan dishes, is a volcanic rock salt manufactured in the Himalayan region. Finally, if plain salt isn’t exciting enough for you, why not add an aromatic seasoning to turn up the taste? Rosemary salt is a delicious way to add savoury flavour to meat dishes or freshly baked breads.
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