Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pink Pepper (Schinus molle)

Colin Pearce of Lower Hutt has found he has this beauty - a pink pepper tree - growing in his garden. His neighbour is similarly blessed. I wonder how widespread these trees are around New Zealand? I haven't paid attention to them before.

Their fruits (and those of their close relly Schinus terebinthifolius) are a widely used spice - dried or brined as 'pink peppercorns'. These trees are native to South America, but people have carried them around the world, and in parts of Australia and South Africa they're invasive. 

Note that in New Zealand Schinus terebinthifolius is on the National Pest Plant Accord, however, Schinus molle (which Colin seems to have) is not. One distinguishing feature of Schinus molle is its longer, narrower leaf.  

More good ID photos on google images.

Culinary uses
Pink pepper trees are not related to black pepper trees, but are actually in the Sumac family. Their peppercorns have a mild, sweet taste variously described as aromatic, citric, fruity, and floral. They spice up desserts as well as savoury dishes:
Bake them in Biscotti
Candy them
Poach fruit in them
Crush them into meringues
Sprinkle them over panna cotta or infuse them into icecream.

There's been concern over allergic reactions and/or stomach irritations from eating Schinus peppercorns. So maybe at first, don't eat too many at once. Try a little, wait, and make sure of no reactions.

Medicinal and cosmetic uses
Overseas pink peppercorns are distilled into an essential oil, used often in perfumery as a top note. I have some - it's gorgeous!

Pink peppercorns have traditional medicinal uses, too.

Colin plans to harvest his peppercorns, then dry some and brine the rest. I can't wait to hear how it goes. (And thanks to Colin for these photos.)

If you have pink peppercorn trees growing near you, or have harvested their fruits yourself, I'd love to hear about it. (Also - I'm interested to know, is there any evidence that Schinus molle could become a pest here like Schinus terebinthifolius?)

P.S. Blogger is driving me nuts right now with its crazy ever-lengthening paragraph breaks! Am I the only person this is happening to? Is there something I'm meant to do that I'm not? Help welcome! :o)


Alessandra said...

Wow, fancy having that in your garden! Lucky!


Anonymous said...

Hi Johanna
I have a big old one here at the property I'm renting in Kerikeri. It's definitely a molle – no peppercorns on at present. Big old spreading branches and a rambling surface root system. Will send you a photo sometime this week. Margaret Cahill

Heather said...

I went to Meadowbank Primary School in Auckland in the 80s and there were trees just like that on the street just outside the school. My Mum's Australian and she called them 'pepper trees'. They made things that looked like peppercorns, but I don't recall trying to eat them (which is odd, really, as I ate all kinds of other plant matter as a kid!). I was fascinated by the slight twist on the stems of leaflets and the way the branches were 'weeping'.

I'll be keeping an eye out for them now I know they make pink peppercorns, though! Thanks for the info :-)

Heather said...

And a least one of them's still there! Yay for Google streetview :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Margaret - it's lovely to hear from you! You are so lucky, and I'd love to see a photo!!!

Heather, that's fascinating to hear, and also that you looked them up on google Earth! (Don't think I would have thought of that ...)Must be nice to know they're still there ... It's sad when food trees get cut down.

Alessandra - I know!!! Envy ....

JennyDreams said...

I've left nine behind sadly, would love to try the peppercorns. Just found your blog. Thank you! And, yes, I am having the same frustrations with Blogger.

JennyDreams said...

Oops, "mine" , not nine. ;)

Andrea said...

Hi Johanna,
Your blog was recomended to me by Phil at Thoebrominated, and I just love it! Pink peppercorn trees are very common along roadsides here in California, but I've never yet sampled their fruit. I'm pretty sold on the idea of peppercorn-poached fruit, yum!

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Andrea

Thanks very much for your comment. Phil also put me onto your blog and I have been loving it! :)

Stephanie said...

Had one of these trees in my backyard (Calif.) most of my life. Never knew they were edible until I moved away (isn't that always the way). I try to bring some home if I'm visiting at the right time of year.

They really do taste lovely. I'm anxious to try some of the recipes you've linked to here (especially the meringues and biscotti!).

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have two of these trees in my back yard, here in Christchurch. they are beautiful, large and give perfect shade. Have always wanted to know if I could eat the pink peppercorns
Very helpful

ChrisRausten said...

I live in California and I love pepper trees. There are lots here. I had one in my yard as a child and we had the best tree house in it.. Fond memories! I just purchased a large property with 4 pepper trees on it. They are great for shade! I just found out today that the peppers are edible and in researching it I found your blog. Although some resources say that it can be an invasive species, I don't think there's any worry about it. I have a small orchard and there seems to be a pepper tree trying to grow in with one of my apple trees. I need to get it out but other than that they are only growing where they are supposed to be and I have never seen any signs (in my life) that there is a problem with them being invasive. Enjoy!!

Anonymous said...

Pepper trees are spotted across Southern California but not considered evasive here since we don't get a lot of water.Does your region receive generous amounts of rain, if so then maybe you might have a pest on hand.

Anonymous said...

His neighbour is similarly blessed. I wonder how widespread these trees are around New Zealand? I haven't paid attention to them

Daniel Jenkins said...

My Friends in Blenheim have one of these pink pepper trees. I tried them a couple of weeks ago. Very aromatic. We used them in a cream based pasta sauce and the infused wonderfully. I will investigate the tree a little closer next time I'm up

Jocelyn Turner said...

I'm in Las Vegas and I have a big beautiful pepper tree in my front yard. Id like to find a recipe on how to make tea from simmering the leaves in water. Can anyone help me?