You may be surprised to learn that black, white, and green peppercorns are all the same seed of the same plant in various stages of development and processing. The active ingredient in pepper is piperine, of which a mere twenty parts per million can be detected. The berries grow on spikes, with 50 to 60 berries per spike. Before you ask why cayenne is not included here, it is because cayenne pepper is a capsicum, related to chile peppers.
Black Peppercorns: You may think that these are the mature fruit of the plant. Not so. They have reached their full size, but are not quite ripe. They are picked and allowed to dry in the sun. Enzymes in the berries cause the skin to turn black during the drying process. Strongest in flavor.
White Peppercorns: These are actually the mature berries which ripen to a red color before being picked. After harvesting, they are soaked and rubbed free of the outer skin down to the smooth white underlayer, then dried and bleached by the sun. Slightly milder than black pepper.
Green Peppercorns: This is the unripe version, picked while green and usually pickled in vinegar or brine. You may also find them freeze-dried and dehydrated (more flavorful). Green peppercorns are actually picked at the same stage of ripeness as black peppercorns, but not allowed to dry. Their flavor and spiciness are less concentrated than black peppercorns.
Red Peppercorns: This mature, but unhulled version of the peppercorn is often difficult to find. Check gourmet and health food stores and expect to pay dearly for them if you do find them.
Pink Peppercorns: In spite of its moniker, these are unrelated to the black peppercorn. They come from the Baies rose plant (Euonymus phellomanus), imported from Madagascar and as a result, are expensive.
They are pungent and slightly sweet, but not nearly as flavorful as the real thing. These berries were once banned by the Food and Drug Administration as a foodstuff, but are now considered safe for consumption. This seed is not to be confused with the Brazilian pepper berry below.
Pink Berries: Also often called pink peppercorn, this berry is also unrelated to the black peppercorn. It is the seed of Schinus terebinthifolius, also known as Brazilian pepper tree, Christmas berry, and Florida holly. The plant is considered a scourge in Florida. The flavor is hardly spicy hot and has more of a sweet menthol and resinous nature. This berry causes allergic reactions in some, particularly children, and can be toxic in large quantities. Not recommended.
More About Pepper, Peppercorns, and Pepper Recipes:
|•||Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference|
|•||The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices: Seasonings for the Global Kitchen|
|•||The Spice Lover's Guide to Herbs and Spices|
|•||Herb Mixtures & Spicy Blends|