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Food glossary

various spices

Black pepper

Black peppercorns

Probably the most popular spice in the world, peppercorns are the berries of a tropical climbing shrub, Piper nigrum. Pepper berries ripen when they turn from green to red. Black pepper is obtained from berries that are just turning red - they are picked and dried in the sun where they turn wrinkled and black.

Uses: Place the peppercorns in a small twist of cloth on their own or with other spices such as dried chillies and bay leaves and add to stews and casseroles. They can then be easily removed from the dish before serving. Grind peppercorns in a mill at the last moment into meat soups, sautéed vegetables, meat casseroles etc. Use milled too, for French dressing, sprinkled over salads, or as a flavouring garnish on savoury dishes.

To store: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

To prepare: To make crushed peppercorns, either crush using a pestle and mortar or place them in a plastic bag and press with a rolling pin. They can be used to flavour steaks, fish and chicken.

Green peppercorns

Unripe peppercorns are green in colour and are available freeze dried, or pickled in brine or vinegar. They have a light flavour but are just as spicy as black peppercorns.

Uses: Especially popular in Thai cooking, green peppercorns are also used in duck and game recipes.

To store: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Pickled peppercorns should be rinsed thoroughly before use.

Pink peppercorns

Pink peppercorns are not actually peppercorns, but they are similar size and have a similar but milder flavour even though they are from a different plant. Their aroma is not obvious until they are crushed, when they give off a faint peppery, smell. They are available dried or preserved in brine. They are not interchangeable with true peppercorns.

Uses: They are often mixed with black, green or white peppercorns and crushed to give an attractive colour. Often used for seasoning fish and in Mediterranean-style dishes.

To store: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Peppercorns in brine should be rinsed thoroughly before use.

Sichuan peppercorns

(Can also be spelt Szechuan). These are the dried berries of the prickly ash tree. They have a pungent aroma and dry frying brings out the peppery flavour. Sichuan pepper is one of the ingredients in Chinese five spice powder.

Uses: A popular spice in Chinese cookery, Sichuan peppercorns are widely used in chicken and duck recipes. They are an essential spice for seasoning Sichuan crispy duck.

To store: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

White peppercorns

White pepper is produced when the berries are left to ripen to a red/orange colour. They are then soaked in water until the outer layer of the berry is easy to remove - the remaining berry is white in colour. White pepper has a milder flavour than black pepper.

Uses: White pepper is mainly used in dishes where black pepper would spoil the appearance of a dish, for example in cream or milk sauces.

To store: Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.