Black Peppercorns - Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures cell walls in the pepper, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The drupes dry in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper skin around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dry, the spice is called black peppercorn. On some estates, the berries are separated from the stem by hand and then sun-dried without the boiling process.
Once the peppercorns are dried, pepper spirit and oil can be extracted from the berries by crushing them. Pepper spirit is used in many medicinal and beauty products. Pepper oil is also used as an ayurvedic massage oil and in certain beauty and herbal treatments.
Red Peppercorns – Not peppercorns at all, but the berries of the shrub Schinus terebinthifolius, the Mexican pepper tree and Schinus molle, the Peruvian pepper tree. Although mild and sweet, they are quite pungent but not peppery. Once crushed, they are very fruity and sweet with spiciness and flavours of juniper, aniseed and pine. They are mostly used for their attractive appearance and are often mixed with other peppercorns in peppermills. They were hugely popular in the era of nouvelle cuisine until the United States banned the importation of the berries as they were believed to cause respiratory and intestinal problems. This ban has since been revoked following extensive analysis. Red peppercorns enhance light dishes such as fish, poultry and vegetables. They are also a great addition to sweet jellies, syrups, biscuits and cakes.
Green Peppercorns - like black, is made from the unripe drupes. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green colour, such as treatment with sulphur dioxide, canning, or freeze-drying. Pickled peppercorns, also green, are unripe drupes preserved in brine or vinegar. Fresh, unpreserved green pepper drupes, largely unknown in the West, are used in some Asian cuisines, particularly Thai cuisine. Their flavour has been described as spicy and fresh, with a bright aroma. They decay quickly if not dried or preserved.
White Peppercorns White pepper consists solely of the seed of the pepper plant, with the darker-coloured skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. Sometimes alternative processes are used for removing the outer pepper from the seed, including removing the outer layer through mechanical, chemical, or biological methods.
Ground white pepper is used in Chinese and Thai cuisine, but also in salads, cream sauces, light-coloured sauces, and mashed potatoes (where black pepper would visibly stand out). White pepper has a different flavour from black pepper; it lacks certain compounds present in the outer layer of the drupe.