We have an important announcement to make . . . we have gone 100% white pepper at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen!
Okay, I’ll admit it might not seem like a big deal and you may not think this announcement is worthy of a blog post. But, take it from me, it is.
Our goal at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen is to create nourishing food for our customers. And, part of ensuring the food is truly nourishing is to also make sure it is the safest food possible. Yes, of course that means food that meets the standards of the health department. But, to us, it also means so much more.
There are all sorts of foods from the plant world in our diets that contain toxins. In fact, one of the things we focus on in our research is how to employ traditional approaches to food processing to detoxify these foods. The quest for plant detoxification strategies has literally taken us around the world and has resulted in a number of different plant processing strategies that we employ on a daily basis at the MSAK.
It is why we soak all of our nuts, seeds and legumes; use a sourdough approach to all of our grains; nixtamalize all of our maize; and ferment all sorts of vegetables – from carrots to potatoes. And, even though these time honored techniques are powerful, there is one plant toxin that seems to be immune to all processing strategies…oxalates. It seems that the only way to make sure your body doesn’t get too many oxalates is to eat less of the foods that contain high amounts of them.
That is the very reason why we do our best to offer low oxalate ingredients whenever possible. And, this switch from black to white pepper is an important one. According to Sally Norton (my go-to expert on oxalates):
A quarter teaspoon of regular old black pepper has as much oxalate as 1.5 cups of sliced onions and 22 times as much as the same amount of white pepper. In fact, if you’re sticking to an intake of 50 mg of oxalate every day, that ¼ teaspoon of pepper would occupy 6% of your days’ total oxalate allowance.Sally Norton
Since we Americans use pepper on just about all of our food, a shift from a high oxalate spice to a low one can make a profound impact over time.
What is the difference between black and white pepper?
Black and white pepper are both berries from the same exact plant, a woody vine known as Piper nigrum. Black pepper berries are harvested when the berries are still immature and then dried right away so they retain their skin. White peppercorns, on the other hand, are harvested when fully ripe, fermented and the skins removed before drying. Differences in the timing of harvest and processing strategies used to prepare them dramatically impact everything about the final products.
We know all plants produce toxins to protect themselves from external threats including predators, fungus and disease. Some plants work equally hard to attract animals and entice them to eat their ripe fruits and disperse their seeds. This means many mature fruits are generally low in toxins. However, this is not the case for many of the immature versions of the same fruits! In fact, many plants purposefully produce toxins in immature fruits to prevent consumption before their seeds are ready to support new life. After all, it doesn’t make sense to disperse non-viable seeds.
Anyone who has ever bit into an unripe persimmon has experienced this first hand! It is also important to this conversation to recognize that the first barrier of defense for plant organs is its skin so higher concentrations of toxins often exist there.
What does all of this have to do with what pepper you choose to sprinkle on your food?
Unripe fruit with skin often contains higher concentrations of toxins than ripe fruit without its skin. And guess what pepper is – a fruit.
Black pepper flavor is described as hot, floral and pungent while white pepper is bright, sharp, complex and earthy. The harsh flavor of black pepper is due to the presence of “peperine” in the skin. To be clear, peperine is actually an alkaloid; a toxin produced by the plant to protect itself. And, it makes complete sense that it exists in the skin of the immature berry. Harvesting ripe berries and removing the skin not only reduces the peperine but many of the other toxins including oxalates! The fermentation step in the processing of white pepper is an added benefit and most likely helps further detoxify the white pepper, although it probably doesn’t have much of an effect on the oxalates.
The “other” peppers
While not the focus of this post, we haven’t talked at all yet about green or pink/red peppercorns and it is worth mentioning them briefly here. Green peppercorns are berries from the same plant as the black and white pepper, Piper nigrum. Green peppercorns are picked in an even more immature state than those used to make black pepper. They are difficult to store and are therefore often preserved in brine or with sulfites. I had difficulty identifying the toxic load of green peppercorns but, since they are harvested in such an immature state and retain their skin I imagine they are worth staying away from.
Pink or Red Peppercorns are from the evergreen tree, Schinus molle, an entirely different plant altogether. It is important to note that this tree is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which includes a number of very poisonous plants including poison oak and poison ivy. The berries are known to be toxic to livestock, poultry and children and even cause gastric problems in adults. In fact, in the 1980’s the United States Food and Drug Administration temporarily banned the import of pink/red peppercorns because they reported, “pink peppercorns can cause symptoms similar to those caused by poison ivy, as well as violent headaches, swollen eyelids, shortness of breath, chest pains, sore throat, hoarseness, upset stomach, diarrhea and hemorrhoids.” So, green and pink/red peppercorns do not seem like viable spice options for a healthy human diet.
The important switch
Pepper is known as the “master spice” and accounts for 35% of the total world trade in all spices! Pepper is the most common spice added to our food in manufacturing facilities, restaurants and our homes. Since it sneaks into almost everything we eat, replacing white pepper for black pepper can result in a significant decrease in oxalate consumption over time.
Putting the Research into Practice at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen
We have been experimenting for a few weeks now at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen and have now officially replaced all black pepper in every one of our recipes with white pepper.
And, while you may not taste a big difference, it is our hope that over time you will feel a big difference.