Black Pepper: Quality is Everything

Whole black pepper balls in a small white bowl with a knife over it and whole round pepper balls next to it.

Everyone loves to hate on black pepper

It is a tragic story, but it is true. If you search online for recipes featuring black pepper you will undoubtedly find a few recipes mixed in amongst articles with titles like “how black pepper became so overused.” When did black pepper catch such a bad rap? It seems that while black pepper use has increased over the last decade, public perception holds it in contempt as a spice used in bland food.

What are we all missing?

Black pepper isn’t a monolith. Just like grapes for wine, there are many varieties of black pepper, and each growing region has unique characteristics that set them apart. If you’re a black pepper hater you’ve probably been served low quality black pepper for years. Low quality pepper is diluted with fillers and sterilized with chemical processes which also degrade the color and flavor of the pepper. If this is what you’ve been “seasoning” with, no wonder your food doesn’t bring the heat.

In contrast, high quality black pepper is steam sterilized for high color and flavor retention. Remember the grapes example form earlier? Well, pepper is an incredibly delicate product, just like those grapes. Pepper gets a significant portion of its flavor from oils which evaporate easily. Steam sterilization is a more delicate process which disturbs less oil and leaves the most flavor in the product.

An egg cooked in a small skillet with black pepper.

What are the other flavor compounds in pepper?

Another indicator of top-notch black pepper is the piperine content. Piperine is what makes black pepper hot, much like capsaicin in chili peppers. Usually, a person who has learned to enjoy a low-quality black pepper will find a high-quality black pepper too hot to handle and the aromatic oils will feel overwhelming. That’s totally understandable! Just remember that pepper is a spice meant for adding flavor to food. If the pepper seems too hot, then just add less. Don’t use lots of low-quality spice just to reach the same effect.

Another hotly debated topic about black pepper is whether black pepper should be ground fresh or pre-ground. This debate is really rooted in the oil content of the black pepper. Consumers who enjoy pre-ground pepper like it for the convenience and consistent flavor. Unfortunately, that consistency comes at the cost of losing most of the aromatic oils and some of the piperine to evaporation.

Of course, if you’re buying black pepper commercially for food manufacturing then you want consistency because that facilitates repeatable production. It also ensures customers will recognize your products and become familiar with their flavor. Also, in the commercial setting, ground black pepper is still a high-quality option because when properly treated, sealed, and stored it won’t lose any significant portion of aromatic oils or piperine to the environment. Ground black pepper is available in many mesh sizes and each one is suited toward a specific application.

Ground pepper in various forms.

At the end of the day black pepper has a role in food culture. It shouldn’t be a catch all spice, but it definitely works well with tons of dishes. If you’re on the fence about black pepper, then I encourage you to try out a high-quality black pepper and see what it does for your food. Look for high piperine and oil content and grind the pepper corns fresh if you can. When you can’t, then try out one of the many other mesh sizes of ground black pepper. If you’re buying a high quality, steam sterilized, properly sealed and stored, ground black pepper then it should still pack a flavorful punch.

If your pepper is lacking, and you want to see what high quality black pepper can do for your food then give us a call! We’re excited to help you grow your business. As always “Without you, there is no us!”

If you want to learn more about the science behind pepper, the state of the pepper, and the approach we take toward ingredient sourcing, check out our podcast Beyond The Bench-Top! New episodes each month.

For recipes including black pepper and many more ingredients, check out our recipe blogs!

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