Black pepper is arguably the world’s second most widely used spice besides salt. It is a major flavor component in many of the world’s most popular savory dishes as it is used almost globally. Despite its role as staple spice, there are categories of black pepper that many people have no idea exist. The two main ones being Malabar black pepper and Tellicherry black pepper. How do they differ? Can they be used as substitutes for each other? We will answer these questions and more below in this SPICEography Showdown.
Does the flavor of Tellicherry peppercorns differ from that of black pepper?
Let’s start by saying that all true peppercorns belong to the Piper nigrum family. This means that they are in essence, all the same thing. As a result, the flavors are also largely the same. True black peppercorns are different from other spices that have the peppercorn name, like pink peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns.
Most of the world’s black peppercorn supply comes from Vietnam, but the origin of the spice lies in India; specifically, the Malabar Coast. Black peppercorns from India are usually categorized according to their place of origin, which means Tellicherry and Malabar. Tellicherry is the anglicized version of Thalassery, which is a city on the Malabar Coast from which Tellicherry peppers originally came.
In reality, it is very difficult to determine the source of peppercorns since spices may pass through numerous distributors before they get to the consumer. These days, the Tellicherry peppercorn designation simply refers to the size. Any peppercorn larger than 4.25 mm is a Tellicherry peppercorn regardless of where it came from. These peppercorns have been left on the vine to grow larger and to ripen, which gives them more robust and complex flavors when compared to other peppercorns.
When compared to ground black pepper, the flavor of Tellicherry peppercorns is vastly more concentrated with multiple notes that simply are not found in ground black pepper. Ground black pepper could be considered an entirely different spice even though it comes from the same plant.
Can you use one in place of the other?
Tellicherry peppers are considered the very best variety of black pepper. Because they offer a more complex version of the same flavor profile, they can stand in for black peppercorns or pre-ground black pepper easily and will likely improve your enjoyment of any dish that requires black pepper.
While ordinary black peppercorns do not have the citrus and woodsy notes that Tellicherry peppercorns do, they are still quite flavorful and will do a decent job as a substitute. However, you may be able to tell the difference if you have a keen palate.
Ground black pepper has the most muted and simplest flavor profile of the three forms of Piper nigrum. Even so, it can serve as a decent substitute if it is fresh.
When should you use Tellicherry pepper and when should you use black pepper?
You can use Tellicherry pepper in any dish that requires black pepper; however, it is more expensive than regular black pepper. The cost means that you may want to reserve it for dishes where it is likely to shine. Use it on higher-quality steaks and in curry powder blends where it will stand out instead of being hidden behind other strong spices. You can also keep some Tellicherry peppercorns in your spice grinder at the table so that you and your guests can grind fresh pepper on food if desired.
Use black peppercorns and ground black pepper for everyday meals and dishes where the quality of the pepper is not integral to the success of the dish. In other words, it is likely to be fine in the majority of the savory dishes you prepare.