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Ground black pepper adds an earthy kick and sharp aroma when blended into soups and stews, sprinkled on omelets or rubbed on meat to season it before cooking. It’s an essential spice, beloved around the world, with a place of honor by the stove and on the table. Among hot spices, black pepper delivers only a fraction of the heat you get from chili peppers. That subtle bite means it plays well with many other ingredients, enhancing, but rarely overpowering other flavors. Black pepper is a must-have for bakers, too, and appears in recipes for biscuits, breads, cake and cookies. The aroma of this culinary must-have should set your nose tingling.
Q: If I don’t have ground black pepper on hand, what makes a good substitute?
A: Any black pepper—from freshly ground peppercorns to coarse ground black pepper—will work. You may need a bit more, as these forms of pepper are not as finely ground. Taste as you go. If you have no black pepper of any kind in the pantry, you can substitute white pepper or a dash of red pepper, also called cayenne. Red pepper is chili pepper and much hotter than black or white pepper, so use a light hand.
Did you know that black, white and green peppercorns are the same berry? They taste very different from one another, but it’s true! They all come from an evergreen vine called Piper nigrum, native to India’s Malabar Coast. Black and green peppercorns are harvested before the berries ripen. Black pepper is dried in the sun and the green berries are pickled. White peppercorns are picked when the berries are fully ripe. The outer husk is removed to reveal the grayish white berry within, which is then dried. Who knew so many seasonings could come from a single plant?