Until I wandered into a beautiful spice store in Nice, different types of black pepper weren’t really on my radar. The myriad jars of black peppercorn from all corners of the world took me by surprise and some came home with me. Now I’ve gotten a little fussier about pepper and recently ended up with 5 different ones and wanted to do a taste test of them.
But how do you taste pepper without blowing out your tastebuds? A quick Internet search turned up a pretty complete roundup from Serious Eats along with notes on how they conducted the tasting. They did theirs with warm white rice to add to the tasting and cleanse the palette. Luckily, I had some leftover rice and a willing taster—Frank.
We had 5 contenders, the normal everyday stuff—a big container of McCormack Whole Black Pepper, a Aranya from Diaspora, and 3 from Burlap & Barrel—Zanzibar, Ea Sar and Wild Timur. I ground some of each on a plate with the rice heaped in the middle. This is what we thought:
- McCormack: This was the hottest of all of them. Pretty straightforward, classic black pepper. Strong and hot. No real scent, but bottle is probably old. Nothing wrong with this, but it won’t knock your socks off.
- Burlap & Barrel Zanzibar: The only Burlap & Barrel peppercorns that came in a jar (the other two were grinders). It doesn’t have much of a distinct smell—maybe a little citrus. The taste is more interesting than the McCormack — a little more floral and has become our go-to pepper for most things. I’ve used it for pickles and marinated artichoke hearts, which call for whole peppercorns.
- Burlap & Barrel Ea Sar: More flavor here — an herb-like taste along with a hot peppery one. Smells like what you think good pepper should smell like. Good “classic” pepper taste. I’ve been using this one on a lot of salads. Its a blend of 2 peppercorns from Vietnam.
- Burlap & Barrel Wild Timur Pepper: Very different. This came in the most recent Burlap & Barrel Spice Club box. Very floral, fruity scent and taste. Could possibly be almost too fruity (and I can’t think of what the fruit is) and sweet. Not sure what I would serve it with. Other issue is that the grinder doesn’t work well. It’s from the Himalayas and according to the label, it could be a replacement for Sichuan pepper “with a little something extra”. I tried it on some bok choy recently but couldn’t get enough out of the grinder to make a difference.
- Diaspora Single Origin Aranya Pepper: I was seduced by the copy in an email they sent me, with the LA Times food critic calling it “an epiphany”, so ordered a jar to include in this roundup. From India, it’s got a fruity nose with hints of grapefruit and figs. Tasting it, it had wonderful heat, tamed with some of the fruitiness.
If you’re looking to upgrade your basic black pepper, any of these would be good, but I would start with the Diaspora and be very happy. Now it’s time for steak au poivre and pasta with cacio e pepe!