How to Cook with 5 Types of Peppercorns to Add Extra Flavor

Learn about green, white, pink, and other peppercorn varieties to change up your home spice game.

Take a look at pretty much any savory recipe and you can assume pepper is going to be listed as an ingredient. Sure, black pepper is the most common (and likely already in your pantry), but a trip down your local grocery store's spice aisle might reveal a rainbow of different-colored peppercorns. But where do peppercorns come from, anyway? While their pungent flavor might make you think otherwise, peppercorns are actually a small fruit from a flowering vine known as piper nigrum, grown in tropical regions. If you haven't ventured into the world of different peppercorns, now's your chance to learn. Find out about some of the most popular varieties of peppercorns out there and some delicious ways to use them. Then you can decide which one's to add to your spice collection.

Peppercorns on a gold spoon and dark surface
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Black Peppercorns

You're likely familiar with this one. Black peppercorns start as green peppercorns before getting cooked and dried into the wrinkled little fruits you know. There are several varieties, but Tellicherry and Lampong are the most common. Kampot peppercorns ($12, The Spice House) from Cambodia are also an up-and-coming variety according to Alex Wilkens, operations manager at The Spice House. Use black peppercorn to season steaks, gravies, or to top any dish that could use a punch of spice.

Green Peppercorns

Green peppercorns are picked when the berries are young and still green. They have a fresh, herbal, delicate taste. Sprinkle them on potato dishes or stir them into cream-based soups and sauces. You might also spot green peppercorns in brine at the store, which preserves the peppercorn's delicate flavor. Used mostly for cooking, not flavoring, the brined variety is commonly found in classic dishes such as steak au poivre.

pink peppercorn rose tea cakes
Victoria Pearson

Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns aren't actually peppercorns at all, but dried berries from the Brazillian pepper tree (aka Christmas berry tree). Since they have the same size and shape as actual peppercorns, they end up getting lumped in with the other peppercorn varieties. (If you have tree nut allergies to cashews and pistachios, you should avoid pink peppercorns.) Its distinct flavor adds citrus and floral notes to dishes, these vibrant non-peppercorns add an elegant flair to sweet treats, tropical fruits, chocolate, and even jellies.

Sichuan Peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns (aka Szechwan peppercorns) are actually seed husks rather than peppercorns. They provide a fragrant, citrus flavor that's not pure spice. Popular in Chinese cooking, Sichuan peppercorns provide a numbing feeling to the lips and tongue. Try them in this Dan Dan Noodles recipe.

White Peppercorns

White peppercorns are dried, fully ripened berries that have had their black hulls removed. Their clean, spicy flavor, reminiscent of roasted nuts, will add a nice flavor to potato salads, soups, and creamy cheeses.

Ground pepper loses flavor quickly. To provide the freshest pepper flavor to your dishes, our Test Kitchen recommends buying whole peppercorns and grinding when needed in a pepper mill ($19, Target). And if you can't decide which of these peppercorns to buy next, you might consider trying a mixed peppercorn blend ($10, The Spice House), to get several flavor notes from each type in one bite.

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