If you are a long time student of Spice University, then you know that we have covered three of the five different peppercorns. The first to be exposed to the light of day was pimenta officinalis and pimenta dioica,allspice berries, a.k.a. Jamaican pepper. The second pepper lesson to appear was on aframomum melegueta,grains of paradise. Then most recently the lesson was about the most common peppercorn, piper nigrum. The next to last peppercorn is Schinus terebinthifolius, pink peppercorns.
Pink peppercorns are sweet and aromatic, because they are not piper nigrums. They are actually the dried fruit of the Baies Rose. They are similar in some ways to juniper (which makes a good substitute, though juniper is far more intense). Most likely native to Brazil, it is now considered a pest plant in parts of Florida and Hawaii. Pink peppercorns are from the cashew family and grow in many places around the world. Pink peppercorns got their name from their shape, not from their flavor. The peppercorn sized fruits are usually sold in a dry state, where they have a bright pink color. Pink peppercorn berries pickled in brine are rare. They have a duller, almost greenish hue when brined. Most pink peppercorns that are used in the kitchens of Europe and America are from Réunion Island off the eastern coast of Madagascar. (A little trivia on Réunion Island – it is considered a part of France making it a part of the European Union. Because it is one time zone to the east of Europe, the very first usage of the euro took place on the island, one hour before they were used in Europe.
Pink peppercorns should not be confused with the ripe pepper fruits of piper nigrum, that also have a red hue, but possess an intense peppery pungency. Pink peppercorns have many names, Brazilian pepper, Christmas berry, and Florida holly. The habit of combining pink peppercorns with black, green, and white piper nigrums to create a mixed pepper blend, strikes me as a little bizarre. The subtle flavor of the pink peppercorn is totally lost in such a concoction. A better concoction would be to combine the three piper nigrums with zanthoxylum piperitum, Szechuan peppercorns.
In a conversation with one of my customers and Chef Jean-Robert, Jean said that in France the pink peppercorn is usually reserved for white fish. He said the delicate flavor of the pink peppercorn worked well with the delicate flavor of most white fish.