Green pepper from the Piperaceae family includes more than 600 species. Only “piper nigrum” is properly called pepper. The pepper plant has tiny flowers that give rise to little spherical berries. Its leaves are similar to those of ivy. The berries number 20 to 30 per spike; initially they are green, then they turn red and finally yellow as they ripen.
Green peppercorns refer to the fresh berries, picked before fully ripe.
Madagascar Green Peppercorns
Pepper is one of Madagascar’s most profitable spices. It is found primarily on the east coast, but is also grown in the northwest, in the Ambanja region. It’s a liana, or climbing plant, that grows on a stake, much like vanilla, though botanically the two plants are totally different.
The same plant can produce three kinds of pepper: green peppercorns are the immature berries that are rapidly placed into brine so that they stay soft; black peppercorns are the whole ripe berries dried with their pulp; and white peppercorns are black peppercorns that have had the pulp removed after retting.
Climatic differences mean that pepper is harvested twice a year on the east coast and only once a year in the northwest. There has been a resurgence of interest in pepper cultivation in recent years, though it is still difficult to find heavy, good quality black pepper. A pepper plant grown from cuttings begins producing in the third year and can give good yields for about 30 years.
Green peppercorns should be used in moderation. While they have the property of stimulating digestive secretions, thus promoting digestion, they can also be an irritant if consumed in too great a quantity.
Green peppercorns are always whole. They can be bought fresh, dried, freeze-dried or preserved in brine or vinegar solution.
Fresh or brined green peppercorns are the most interesting from a gustatory point of view.
Freeze-dried green peppercorns are of little interest taste-wise; they are mostly used for their aesthetic appeal.
You can easily conserve green peppercorns in vinegar for several weeks in the refrigerator after opening the jar. Just be sure the berries remain covered with liquid.
Mild and elegant, flavorful without being assertive, green peppercorns in brine or vinegar should be rinsed in cold water before use.
Green peppercorns add sophistication to terrines. They can be used in countless savory recipes: green peppercorn sauce for grilled beef, cream sauces, stuffings, pâtés and marinades.
Green peppercorns can be used whole in cooking or in a pepper grinder on the table. They can be used anywhere you’d use black pepper, though they are a bit milder and more aromatic with a slight note of cloves. They are less aggressive in the mouth than black pepper. They can be used to flavor vinegar, grilled meats and sauces. They rehydrate very well in about 2 hours. They pair particularly well with fish dishes with a crème fraîche sauce: marinate a tablespoon of green peppercorns in a glass of white wine overnight. The next day, cook some fish fillets in the oven with some chopped shallot and pour the wine and peppercorns over top: cook for about 15 minutes and cover with crème fraîche just before serving, accompanied by white wine.
Usually whole peppercorns are used, and aside from their best-known use – steak with green peppercorns – they are mostly used to flavor poultry and exotic sauces. In Thailand, an entire bunch of berries is added, as is, to flavor sauces and curries.
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