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What Are Peppercorns?

Last Updated on April 21, 2024

Peppercorns are the most common spice and seasoning worldwide and every household has them. Originating from South India’s native plants, these tiny berries are packed with vitamins and minerals. You’ll be astonished by the health benefits!

what is a peppercorn

Also, are you confused about the different types of peppercorns and what to use them for? Black, green, white, pink and even long peppers.

Here’s all you need to know. Just a few steps away from becoming a master chef!

What are Peppercorns?

Peppercorns are tiny berry fruits (the drupes) that grow on Piper nigrum, a flowering vine in the Piperaceae family in tropical regions, native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

They are a spice with many uses. 

peppercorns plant

After harvest, berry fruits are usually dried in the sun, but can be oven-dehydrated if necessary. A process in which the outer layer of the plant, the pericarp, is oxidized and changes color. 

For example, black peppercorn berries are picked while still green (not fully matured), fermented, then sun-dried until they shrivel and turn brownish-black

The Malabar Coast in Kerala India produces some of the finest grades in the world. Pepper’s complexity fascinates me. Each color and size has its own spiciness and use.

Trade History of Peppercorns

As early as the 5th century, the spice trade influenced historical civilizations in Asia, Egypt, Arab, Northeast Africa, and Europe.

Aromatics like cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, star anise, clove, and turmeric were known and used in antiquity.

spice trade

The spice trade made peppercorns popular. Ancient traders exported them for high prices as luxury. 

In the medieval period, people paid rent, taxes, and dowries with peppercorns used as currency. They held monetary value and were so valuable that they were called “black gold“.

At that time, explorers tried to find new routes to get spice. This led to the Dutch Empire’s rise. They even got a colony in Indonesia and Malaysia, the main peppercorn suppliers back then.

Today, these tiny dried berries are used in many cuisines worldwide in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Its unique flavor and history make it a great spice to use in dishes.

spice trade

Peppercorn Varieties and Flavour Profile

Whether black, white, green, or pink, all peppers come from tropical evergreen vines. In my culinary career, it’s an essential ingredient for chefs and cooks to know about the varieties and how to use them to upgrade dishes. 

types of peppercorns

Black Peppercorns

Black peppercorns are picked when ripe. They are then dried, giving them a dark color & spicy flavor.

They have a strong peppery taste and are widely used and give a pungent, sharp taste – great with savory dishes. 

White Peppercorns

They are ripe and soaked, removing the outer layer. The inner seed is dried, giving it a milder flavor than black.

White peppers are widely used in Asian cuisine. They are mild, with an earthy flavor – perfect for sauces and soups.

White pepper contains a chemical called piperine. This chemical seems to have many effects on the body. It seems to reduce pain, improve breathing, and reduce inflammation. (source: Webmd.com)

Green Peppercorns

Green peppers are immature and picked before they mature, making them milder and fruitier than black. They are unripened, with a fresh and bright fruity taste – great for gravy and salads. 

Peppercorns From Different Plants

where does black pepper come from

Pink Peppercorns 

They are not true peppercorns and come from other plant species. Genetically, they’re closer to cashews than to a pepper spice. Due to their similar shape and size, they’re marketed as pink peppercorns.

They are often used decoratively due to their vibrant color and sweet, mild, citrusy flavor – ideal for desserts and cocktails.

Sichuan Peppercorns

In spite of the sound of their name, these aren’t peppers at all. Unlike the red chiles ubiquitous in Chinese Sichuan cuisine, these tiny “peppercorns” are actually the berries of the prickly ash tree, which belongs to the citrus family.

There is no relation between Sichuan peppers and black peppers.

How to Use

They can be used whole or ground.

Grind them just before use to get the maximum flavor and to release their natural flavor and aroma! Here are some ways to use them:

fresh grinder black peppercorns

Whole peppercorns:
1. Grind black pepper into powder. Use in soups, stews, curries and salads.
2. Add pickling liquids for pungent flavor in pickles and veggies.
3. Add to broths and stocks.

Ground pepper:
1. Add heat and flavor to marinades and rubs.
2. The seasoning can be mixed with salt and other seasonings to create an all-purpose seasoning.
3. Sprinkle on mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, and soups.

Note: Store them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Only grind what you need to keep the flavor.

How to Store

black pepper

If you have too many peppercorns to use, here are some things to remember: First, make sure they are completely dry. Moisture can cause mold or reduce flavor over time.

Secondly, store the peppercorns in an airtight container away from sunlight and heat. Light and heat can damage their flavor and potency.

Thirdly, in humid climates, you can freeze the peppercorns. This will keep them fresh longer.

Follow these tips, and you can enjoy cooking for months. Pro Tip: To check freshness, crush or grind some peppercorns and smell them. If the scent is strong, they are fresh.


Final Thoughts

Peppercorns add flavor to many dishes. They come from the Piper nigrum plant native to South India.

The berries are picked and dried, forming peppercorns. These small balls have a strong flavor, used in cooking, seasoning, and even as a home remedy. They come in four colors: black, white, green, and pink, plus Sichuan peppercorn.

Each color has its own flavor. Black is bold and pungent. White and Sichuan peppers are often used in Asian cuisine. Pink has a citrus flavor; it’s excellent for sauces and dressings.

Whether you’re a chef or a home cook, they can make your dish flavorful. For maximum flavor, grind your peppercorns fresh.

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Peppercorns are small berries that grow on the vine of the Piper nigrum plant, a member of the piperaceae family. Peppercorns are used as a seasoning and flavoring in a variety of cuisine around the world.


There are several types of peppercorns, including black, white, green, and red pepper.
Black peppercorns are the most common used spice in the world. White peppercorns are used for their milder flavor in soups, stews, salad dressings, pickles, and spice blends. Green peppercorns are softer than black or white and are used in sauces and marinades. 


Peppercorns are low in calories, carbs, and fiber, but they do contain small amounts of protein, vitamin K, iron, and potassium. 


Peppercorns can be ground in a pepper mill or mortar and pestle for a fresh flavor and aroma. They can be used as whole berries in brines or pickling solutions, and soaked in water or oil to alter their flavor and aroma.
Peppercorns can also be partly crushed for more flavor and pungency. It’s important to store peppercorns in an airtight container to retain their flavor and aroma.


Tellicherry pepper is a type of black pepper that is considered a gourmet pepper due to its large size, bold flavor, and high quality. It is named after the city of Tellicherry in India, where it is cultivated on the Malabar coast. Tellicherry pepper is often ground in a pepper grinder and used in a variety of dishes.


White peppercorns are the fully ripe berries of the Piper nigrum plant that have had their outer layer removed. This gives them a milder flavor and lighter color than black pepper. Black peppercorns are dried unripe berries that have a stronger flavor and a darker color. Both white and black peppercorns are used in cooking as integral everyday seasoning.

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what is a peppercorn

Types of Peppercorns and Uses

There are a variety of peppercorns available, each with its own flavor profile and uses. In this blog post, we'll explore the different types of peppercorns and how to best use them in your cooking.
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Peppercorns from Different Plants



  • They can be used whole or ground. Grind them just before use to get the maximum flavor and to release their natural flavour and aroma!

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