“A peppery, floral character balanced by sweet berry and plum fruit that exhibits notes of pine and citrus,” sounds like it could describe an elegant Saint-Joseph from France’s northern Rhône. But it also perfectly captures the essence of pink peppercorns. Their complex flavors make them a gorgeous addition to everything from ceviche and meat rub to chocolate and fresh fruit.
If these don’t sound like the black, white and even green peppercorns you’re used to it’s because those three are all from the same plant, Piper nigrum. Pink peppercorns, on the other hand, are the fruit of the Peruvian peppertree, Schinus molle, which is related to the cashew (people with tree-nut allergies may be affected).
After a short-lived moment in the early 1980s, pink peppercorns are again popping up everywhere. At Lilia in Brooklyn, New York, Chef-Owner Missy Robbins’s deceptively simple mafaldine pasta with pink peppercorns and Parmigiano-Reggiano has become one of the city’s most talked-about dishes.
“I’ve seen them mostly in Venice, with marinated seafood like anchovies and sardines,” says Robbins. “They elevate pasta with butter and Parmigiano, but I also love them with white anchovies and orange juice, and they’re also great in braises, particularly with short ribs.”
Pink Peppercorn Facts
- In the U.S., they grow wild in California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana and Nevada.
- Estée Lauder’s “Pleasures” was the first perfume to use pink peppercorns in its formula.
- The soft husks of pink peppercorns will clog a pepper grinder—instead, crush them with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Pink peppercorns have an aromatic quality that’s similar to but milder than juniper, making them a tasty addition to gin cocktails.
Find pink peppercorns at the country’s popular restaurants
- Langoustine with lime, pink peppercorn and caviar, at Bar Mezzana in Boston
- Fiocco (pork leg) cured with rosewater and pink peppercorns, at Gwen in Los Angeles
- Venison tartare with crispy bacon, puffed flatbread, wild mustard and pink peppercorn, at Canoe in Toronto
- Burger with smoked Gorgonzola, sugo and pink peppercorn aioli, at Steadfast in Chicago
- Outside skirt steak with pink peppercorn crust, cauliflower, radish and sugar snap peas, at Seven Beef in Seattle
- Oyster with kohlrabi mignonette, pine oil and pink peppercorn, at Petit Crenn in San Francisco
Look for wines with ripe fruit and floral or peppery qualities to help draw out pink peppercorns’ subtle flavors. The aforementioned Saint-Joseph—or any subtly spicy Old World Syrah—is perfect with meat dishes, as are brighter Grenaches (or Garnachas).
For whites, Ryan Lotz, beverage director of Boston’s Bar Mezzana, likes Il Monticello’s Groppolo Vermentino from Colli di Luni. “Pink peppercorns are often used to offset richness, which is what this wine does as well, with ripe tropical fruit flavor but lots of acidity. Its distinct salty and savory quality pulls out the floral spiciness of pink peppercorns in almost any seafood dish.”