A Passion for Peppercorns

Rose peppercorns. How pretty are these?

Husband-and-wife, Bruce and Angela Morgan of Washington state, have that in spades.

A decade ago they started Pepper-Passion. As the name implies, the company sells peppercorns. Black, green, rose and white. More than a dozen varieties in all — sourced from all over the world. Many not typically available in stores, either.

The company is an outgrowth of two of their hobbies: wood-working and cooking. Bruce designs his own, hand-crafted peppermills, each made from a single piece of exotic hardwood. Of course, with all those peppermills (some of which can fetch up to $900 each), he had to fill them with something.

Pepper-Passion sells only whole peppercorns. None of that pre-ground stuff, which the Morgans distain, because to really appreciate all the nuances of pepper, you have to grind it yourself just before using.

For black peppercorns, pepper berries are picked from the vine just before they ripen. As they dry, they turn black. For white peppercorns, the berries are allowed to ripen further on the vine. Then, they are soaked in water, which softens their shells so they can be removed easily. Green peppercorns are picked before the pepper berries fully mature. Red peppercorns are not peppers at all. They are actually mastic berries, according to the Morgans, which originated from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

Recently, the Morgans sent me samples of their peppercorns to try. The first thing that struck me was how fresh tasting the peppercorns were, especially compared to the stuff off the shelves in supermarkets. The second thing that stood out was just how much the taste of peppercorns can vary.

Air-dried Indian green peppercorns with a fresh, grassy note.

Vietnamese peppercorns, which have a citrus fragrance.

My favorite has to be the Rose Peppercorns. I’ve had pink peppercorns before, but none with this complexity. They’re fruity and almost a little sweet. In fact, there’s a faint note that reminds me of dried Chinese plums. They’d be fabulous in baked goods, especially chocolate ones.

Another one that stood out was the Lampong Black from Indonesia. It has an unexpected smokiness with just a touch of heat. It would be great on grilled fish or chicken.

I’d always thought of white pepper as just a blast of heat without the earthiness of the black varieties. But the Muntok White from Indonesia surprised with its woodsy and almost creamy flavor. It would give a nice lift to chowders.

A 4-ounce bag of peppercorns starts at $7 and goes on up, depending upon the variety. Sampler packs and gift boxes also are offered.

Discover a whole new world of peppercorns. You’ll never settle for the already ground, mystery stuff in glass jars again.

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