As pretty as they are spicy, these flavoursome little berries are, in fact, not a pepper at all, but rather a surprise addition to the cashew family. Taken from the Peruvian pepper tree, pink peppercorns have been a growing addition to the British culinary scene, as well as the gin one.
The cashew family, it transpires, is a wide one. In her superb (honestly, it’s a bit of a must-read for all gin/flavour geeks) 2013 book, The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart explains that the Peruvian pepper tree is part of the Anacardiacae species, one which holds mangoes, cashews, shellac and poison ivy under its belt. She advises, with that in mind, approaching pink peppercorns with a touch of caution: “People who are highly sensitive to poison ivy, for instance, may find that mango rind gives them a rash. Fortunately, mango flesh is perfectly safe.”
Pink peppercorn is native to South America, where it stills grows in great abundance. The pepper tree has a fondness for the hot, wet climate, though it does its best to proliferate elsewhere, with many species cultivating their way through North America (in fact, the tree is banned in Florida, where it is considered to be an invasive species).
The pink peppercorn is regarded as an equivalent to the cubeb berry in many ways, sharing similar antiseptic and diuretic qualities. In Peru, the pepper berry tree is used to treat conditions as wide and varied as fractures, cuts and rheumatism.
Pink peppercorn has a resinous, pinene quality, which is why it works so well with juniper (hence, it’s rapidly increasing use in gin). There is a light berry sweetness to it, too, but overall it brings a great pop and a big dose of levity. Rounded and fruity, it’s a great addition to anything calling for a hit of spice without that dusty, peppery slap.
Gin isn’t the pink peppercorn’s first foray into the booze world. For years (we’re talking thousands, here), the fruits were used to make beer Chicha, a sort-of beer made by the Amazon Wari tribe from around the year 600BC. There is a deeply fascinating write-up on the ancient brewing techniques here, for those of you inclined to know more.
When distilled, the pink peppercorn retains its almost sappy nature, bringing a certain amount of fire to a spirit. It’s a genuinely exciting flavour and impossible to pinpoint to any one comparison. Pungent, yet light, it brings heat but not fire, is present right off the bat growing in stature until at it’s peak towards the finish, bringing a sparky introduction to the very first sip of the gin that holds it.
Gins in which Pink Peppercorn is noticeable to taste:
It goes without saying that those seeking to taste the pink peppercorn in all its glory should make an immediate pitstop at Pink Pepper Gin. Vanilla and tonka may dominate the mouth somewhat here, but the pink pepper brings a beautiful depth. Durham Distillery also make great use of the spice, as does Whittaker’s with its Pink Particular Gin. It puts in a brief cameo in Graveney Gin, and… well, others. Many others.
It makes a lovely garnish when sprinkled on top of a Copa-served G&T with a handful of bay leaves.
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