If you live in California, Florida, Hawaii, Texas, or Arizona, you might be seeing these rosy berries in backyards, parks, and farmers' markets. Did you know they're identical or very similar to the expensive pink peppercorns sold commercially?
Pink peppercorns (a misnomer, as they are unrelated to true peppercorns) come from two plants native to South America: the Peruvian peppertree (Schinus molle) and Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius). The ones pictured here are from the Peruvian type, which thrives as an invasive plant in several US states. Ripening in fall and winter, the berries are gathered by savvy foragers and sometimes sold at farmers' markets.
In addition to their beautiful color, the berries have a delicate sweetness with a mild peppery bite. Although pink pepper is commonly mixed with more pungent black and white peppercorns, spice merchant Tony Hill writes in The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs & Spices that it should be used separately to fully enjoy the delicate flavor. He suggests using it as garnish, in light cream sauces, and with seafood. When cooking, pink pepper should be added towards the end, as high heat and long cooking times can destroy the flavor.
We threw some into a vinaigrette for salad and are contemplating possible dessert uses. Do you have any favorite uses for pink pepper?
(Note: We have read that some people are allergic to the fruit and/or leaves. As with anything, pay attention to your body's reactions when foraging and eating.)
• Peruvian peppertree, from USDA
(Images: Emily Ho)