King of the Tabletop: Black Pepper

Ingredient Spotlight

We like it on our steak, we like it on our salad, we like it just about anywhere. Let's give three cheers to this mightiest of spices, the enchanter of palates, the king of the tabletop: black pepper!Did you know that peppercorns are actually the unripe fruit of a flowering vine? These tiny berries start out green and slowly change to deep red as they ripen. They don't turn black until after they get picked, cooked, and dried.

Pepper is spicy and enough of it will certainly make your ears warm, but it won't have you gulping down water the way chili peppers do. A few grinds is a nice way to add a bit of heat to a dish without blowing people away. Plus, its woodsy, citrusy flavor makes a nice counter-note to a lot of flavors in our cooking.

A few more trivia facts for you: green pepper is harvested a little earlier than black pepper and gets dried without being cooked to retain its brighter color. White pepper is ground from the seed of a fully ripe peppercorn; it's nice to use this spice when seasoning light-colored foods where you don't want black flakes to show up, though its flavor is a bit murkier. Pink peppercorns come from a different plant entirely, which accounts for their color and brighter flavor.

If you're in a pepper mood, take a look at these recipes:

Roasted Edamame with Sea Salt and Black PepperGinger and Black Pepper Roasted Turkey BreastSlow-Cooker Peppered Beef Shank in Red WineHow to Salt-Cure Lox at Home

What's your favorite peppery dish?

Related: Black Pepper: Which Spice Should Replace It?

(Image: alexsalcedo/Shutterstock)

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