Peppercorns originate from piper nigrum, a flowering vine that is native to India as well as some parts of Asia. Pepper is normally used either in powder form or as peppercorns.
In India, the Malabar region is synonymous with high quality peppercorns.
How many types of peppercorns are you aware of? Aside from the renowned black and white pepper, did you know there are several other types? Perhaps green or red?
Well, it turns out that piper nigrum is mother to numerous types of pepper.
Pepper is a popular spice not only in Indian cuisine, but throughout the globe. The hot, sharp and nutty aroma of pepper compliments many dishes.
In line with the different types is the overall shelf life of pepper. Knowing when pepper becomes obsolete sets you up for stringent effective storage hacks so as to prolong the shelf life.
Read on to become informed on the various types of pepper and how to effectively store them for prolonged use.
Types of Peppercorns
Green peppercorns are plucked when still unripe. They are treated in certain substances like Sulfur dioxide to impede enzyme reactions which cause the corns to darken. Green peppercorns are mostly used when brined and have a tangy taste.
In actuality, black peppercorns are made from blanched, sun-dried green peppercorns. The drying process creates enzyme reaction which changes the green color to black and causes wrinkled skin. Black peppercorn also contains the strongest aroma due to the vigorous drying process.
When fully ripe, peppercorns become red. In order to preserve the hue, red peppercorns are treated in various preserves.
White peppercorns are made by removing the outer skin of red peppercorns. In other words, white peppercorns are also known as skinless red peppercorns.
Benefits of Peppercorns
Peppercorn is a versatile spice to stock at home. It boasts of many health and wellness benefits as outlined below:
- It promotes absorption of nutrients like curcumin which is found in turmeric. Thus, when using turmeric, always remember to pair it with pepper for effective results.
- Aids in breakdown of fats, thus promotes low cholesterol levels in the body.
- Piperine improves brain function and has been linked to facilitating the breakdown of amyloid plaques which destroy the brain’s protein fragments. When the fragments are destroyed, one is at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is linked to a myriad of health conditions due to the weakening of cell structures in body organs.
- Pepper is also rich in antioxidants which protect the body from free radicals which cause cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Shelf Life of Pepper
How long pepper lasts depends on various factors such as the composition of pepper and storage conditions used. You can have whole or ground peppercorns.
Whole peppercorns generally have a shelf life of 4 years at most, when unopened and stored in a dry, airtight container.
Ground peppercorns also have a similar shelf life to whole peppercorns. The powder will still have potency and aroma within the 4 years.
Opened peppercorns can become predisposed to contaminants, air and moisture which can reduce their shelf life.
Always store the peppercorns in seal-able containers or divide the corns into several small batches. Use each batch at a time, to prevent exposing all the peppercorns in undesirable conditions.
How Best To Store Pepper to Increase the Shelf Life
Brining is effective for green peppercorns due to their unripe state.
The high salt concentration mitigates any enzyme reaction which can cause the delicate corn to rot.
Brining is a simple process which involves immersing the peppercorns in water with dissolved salt.
Thoroughly wash and sort out the peppercorns before brining. Washing softens the skin and pulp causing the salt to penetrate faster.
Brined peppercorns impart a tangy, rich flavor and works great as a meat marinade. They should be refrigerated throughout.
Well stored brined peppercorns will last for up to 3 months.
Another effective way of prolonging the potency of peppercorns is to reduce them into oil.
Peppercorn essential oil is popular in cooking, wellness, beauty and hair care.
The preferred corns are usually unripe red peppercorns. The peppercorns for making oil should be well picked. Avoid mashed or blemished corns. Clean the corns well to prevent the oil from having impurities.
Pure peppercorn oil extraction can be technical and involves distillation using steam.
Extremely hot steam is used to vaporize the volatile oils which are then condensed and passed through a collection point.
Peppercorn oil is beneficial in many ways.
- It works as a pain reliever for muscle and body pains
- Relieves congestion from flu and cold
- Stimulates nerves thus is used in aromatherapy
- When ingested, it stimulates appetite
- Promotes body warmth when topically applied
- Added as a spice to savoury dishes.
Essential oils can be too harsh when you exceed the usage. They are best used in combination with carrier oils which dilute them.
Dehydration is an age-old preservation technique for extending the shelf life of food items.
In dry seasons or summer, natural sunlight is effective for drying. The peppercorns are simply spread out on a flat surface and left in the sun for a couple of days.
Another way is to use a dehydrator if you have one. The appliance will dry out the corns within a few hours.
You can use the dried corns as they are, coarsely crash them into flakes or grind them into powder, which becomes less cumbersome to use.
Ground pepper has a shorter shelf life due to the loss of volatile substances and oils that preserve the spicy aroma. It should be used frequently while still full of potency.
Store dried or ground pepper in airtight and heavy duty container to prevent heat, sunlight or moisture all of which will hasten spoilage.
Another drying alternative is freeze-drying. This involves passing the peppercorns through a commercial freeze-dryer which hardens them into rock solid corns.
Freeze-drying may require you to have it done professionally.
Preserve in oil
Oil preservation is another ancient technique used to preserve herbs and vegetables.
The most common oil used is olive oil, since this technique is popular in the Mediterranean region where olive oil is a staple item.
When trying this method at home, use well sorted peppercorns and clean the corns well.
You can opt to pre-roast them for a few minutes.
Oil preservation works by sealing the peppercorns. This locks out impurities and atmospheric conditions which could otherwise cause spoilage.
Use your pantry or kitchen cabinets
A simple storage technique for whole, dry and ground peppercorns is to keep them in the pantry or spice cabinet.
Exercise caution and avoid direct sunlight and moist conditions.
Avoid mixing the peppercorns with other volatile spices as this can cause cross contamination and absorption of aroma, which reduces the potency of each spice.
How to Identify Pepper that Has Gone Bad
- A major indication of spoilage is the presence of mold. Discard any moldy peppercorns.
- Loss of aroma. Prolonged storage of ground peppercorns will reduce their potency. This does not mean that it cannot be used. It only means that its flavour imparting properties have been minimized.
Pepper is an essential spice to stock, due to its rich, earthy aroma. The only way to maximize the potency of pepper is to prolong its shelf life through the mentioned techniques.