The Spice Route: David Klopfenstein on Black Pepper

I first met Dave at Food Obstructions where I was blown away by his risotto ball dish – I still think about them! He has a really inventive style of cooking using seasonal ingredients and you can find more about it at Dave’s Kitchen. I’m happy to have him on The Spice Route. Get ready to learn a lot you didn’t know about black pepper and get a really delicious recipe too!

Name: David Klopfenstein

Where do you live? Brooklyn, NY

What do you love to do? Cook and write about it (on

What’s your spice? Black Pepper

What do you know about it? Black pepper is the fermented and dried berry of a vine officially known as Piper Negrum. It’s native to southern India but is now cultivated widely across tropical regions of the world (Vietnam is currently the world’s leading producer). White pepper comes from the same fruit, but is hulled: it’s the seed of the berry only, whereas the black peppercorn is made from the entire dried fruit. Green peppercorns – the unripe, un-dried berry of the same plant – can often be found either freeze-dried or preserved in brine. Fresh peppercorns, rarely found in the west because they’re very difficult to preserve and transport, are found in Thai and other Asian cuisines.

Black pepper was used in Indian cooking from ancient times, and was highly sought after by Europeans at least since the Roman era. It was so highly prized that it became an extremely important trade commodity and played a significant part in European empire building empires in Asia. It was largely access to black pepper that drove Vasco de Gama, and later Columbus to look for sea routes to India.

What do you like about it? Black pepper is almost an afterthought: always listed at the very bottom of a recipe’s ingredients list, a nearly forgotten mention of “salt and pepper to taste.” But its barely-noticed place in the recipe is really a sign of just how necessary and essential it is. Practically no dish is complete without it.

But black pepper’s role as a supporting player, as the picker-upper and rounder-outer of every dish in the cookbook, shouldn’t let you think that it lacks flavor or depth of its own. It is a berry, after all (well, technically, a “drupe”), and a good-quality black peppercorn has a complex fruitiness of its own. It holds up well as a featured flavor and can take a starring role in dishes like black pepper ice cream or like the black pepper and fresh herb biscuits for which I’ve listed a recipe here.

What else? Like every Midwestern kid, I grew up thinking of pepper as the stuff in the shaker, next to the salt on the kitchen table. It was a real awakening the first time I used freshly ground black pepper instead of the grey sawdust poured from a McCormick’s tin. Such aroma! Real heat! Actual flavor! It opened a small window into a larger universe of food and flavors, much bigger than the convenient, pre-packaged world of the suburban supermarkets I grew up with.

What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe using it? Black Pepper and Herb Biscuits

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Posted in : Autumn, Breads, Breakfast, Dinner, Recipes Index, Sides, Snacks, Vegetarian, Winter