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Tellicherry Peppercorns vs. Regular Malabar Black Pepper – What's the Difference?

Posted on March 08, 2015 by Scott Eirinberg

Before The Reluctant Trading Experiment, I didn't know a Tellicherry peppercorn from a telephone pole. But I've learned a lot, so I thought I'd do a little peppercorn pontification now and share the knowledge.

Setting the Record Straight on Tellicherry

So what is the difference between Tellicherry peppercorns and regular black pepper? Actually, there's a lot of misinformation out there on the topic. Curiously, some websites state that Tellicherry peppercorns come from the city of Tellicherry, India. Not true. It has nothing to do with the place that they come from. Other sites say that Tellicherry peppercorns are left on the vine longer. Nope. Not true either. They're left on the vine the same amount of time as regular peppercorns.

Curiously, some websites state that Tellicherry peppercorns come from the city of Tellicherry, India. Not true. It has nothing to do with the place that they come from.

I think all of these misunderstandings came about because many spice companies don't import their spices directly from India like The Reluctant Trading Experiment. They buy from middlemen, distributors or spice brokers. They're thousands of miles from the action and don't really know the answers, so they look it up on the web. Unfortunately, they have no way of fact checking.

At Reluctant Trading, we import our Tellicherry peppercorns directly from my friend Divakar in India. He (Telli)cherry picks the best peppercorns from the farms on a regular basis. I've visited the farmers in Kerala and learned all about peppercorns. So when you're at your next cocktail party and the popular subject of peppercorns comes up, you'll be armed and prepared for the spicy discussion. 

My pal Divakar showing me the jungles of Kerala

HERE'S THE SKINNY

Tellicherry Peppercorns and "regular black pepper" both come from the exact same vine. (And for that matter, so do green and white peppercorns, but that's another subject for another blog post.) All are the species called Piper Nigrum.

At the end of the growing season, in February and March, the pepper fruit is picked from the vine. The pepper is dried over a series of days and eventually shrivels and turns into what we know as black peppercorns. All of the peppercorns are then shipped to "garbling" facilities. These are places that sort the peppercorns by size and then bag them. The sortation machines have several different large flat metal screens with thousands of identical holes in them. The machines shake the peppercorns so that the smaller peppercorns begin falling through the screens. The smallest peppercorns fall to the very bottom screen. Once sorted, the various peppercorn sizes are called different things and sold for different prices.

So a Tellicherry peppercorn is actually determined by size. When a black peppercorn is 4.25 mm pinhead or larger, it's "Tellicherry." That's all there is to it. Because Tellicherry are so much bigger than the other peppercorns, they make up a much smaller percentage of the crop. Oftentimes they represent 10% or less of any given harvest. There's less of them, so command a higher price at market. 

There's actually another size class of Tellicherry peppercorns. When the peppercorns are 4.75 mm pinhead and above, they're called Tellicherry Special Extra Bold Peppercorns. That's what we sell. Shop The Reluctant Trading Experiment Tellicherry Special Extra Bold Peppercorns

Reluctant Trading's Special Extra Bold Tellicherry Whole Black Peppercorns

IS BIGGER REALLY BETTER?

So is bigger really better? And if regular black pepper is less than 4.25 mm pinhead, what's the taste difference between the two varieties?

Well, I'm glad you asked. And I'm glad that you're still awake because you've made it this far in the blog post. (And you are definitely NOT a pinhead.)

As peppercorns grow larger, they lose a little heat. But, with less heat comes a bigger aroma. So the bigger the peppercorn, the more fragrant. There's more room inside the peppercorn for good stuff to happen. More starches. 

Farmer picking peppercorns in India for Reluctant Trading

Our Reluctant Trading Signature Peppercorns are medium hot. They definitely have the heat you'd expect from pepper, but they won't have you running for water to put out the fire. We think they're perfectly balanced.

Our Tellicherry has strong lime, lemon and orange notes. When you grind our Tellicherry, the citrus aroma is immediate and beautiful (if we don't say so ourselves). That's what grabbed me the first time I tried our Tellicherry peppercorns. It was the beautiful and fragrant Tellicherry scent that led me to start Reluctant Trading. If you don't believe me, watch the video.

Just to ensure that the our pepper remains as beautiful, complex and fragrant as possible, we don't buy from middlemen or store ours in huge warehouses. My friend Divakar buys right from the farms and ships straight to me. I ship right to you. We turn our inventory constantly, so nothing gets stale. A lot of "regular black pepper" is bought by the container load and ends up sitting around warehouses for years. It's less fragrant to begin with and whatever aroma is left, dies over long periods of time in poorly climate controlled warehouses.

When it comes to Tellicherry Peppercorns vs. Regular Black Pepper, Tellicherry wins every time.

Now that you know the difference, why not try Reluctant Trading's Tellicherry peppercorns and see for yourself?

 

"The Reluctant Trading Story"
(Check out Reluctant's Tellicherry Peppercorns.) 
Directed by Barton Landsman

 

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