A rare, hand-harvested pepper from the rainforests of Madagascar
In the heart of the hot and humid rainforest in deepest, darkest Madagascar, on the young vines of the Piper borbonense tree, sit clusters of teeny tiny wild berries. Once picked, these berries are left to ripen and develop naturally in the African sun, creating a powerful seasoning known as voatsiperifery pepper: incredibly rare, unique to the island and hand-harvested only once a year.
“For me voatsiperifery pepper tastes really uncultivated—raw and primordial,” says James at Spice Mountain, where this most special of flavourings can be found. “It’s really woody and herbal. It tastes like humans have never touched it; it tastes foraged, in a way. It’s not overly spiced, but it does have a kick to it. It tastes of the earth, which I like—it’s a very natural flavour.”
Adventurous but accessible
While its scarcity means that it’s highly prized by adventurous cooks and aficionados—“we do get customers coming in and asking for it, especially people who know a lot about pepper”—it is by no means inaccessible. “It is still a black pepper, at the end of the day,” says James. “It is something I recommend quite a lot to people who are wanting to experiment or branch out from the norm, but not in a way that’s difficult or impractical. It’s not so unusual that you can’t factor it into familiar dishes—you can fold it in quite successfully with your usual cooking practise.”
For full effect, though, use it on its own. “It doesn’t play well with other spices,” warns James. “Though that’s a sweeping statement, for me, its qualities will be lost if you blend it. It stands up on its own, as a finishing pepper for all kinds of dishes”—on a rough and ready salad, say, or with grilled lamb. “It works well with minimal ingredients—it fits in with that kind of minimal cooking.” Its fresh, piquant flavours cut through the richness of meaty dishes, but perhaps most surprisingly, it works well in some sweet dishes, too—sprinkled over fruit salad, for example, or folded into chocolate cake. A beautiful mouthful—just like its lovely, multi-syllabic name.