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I made yellow rice after a long while, I didn't remember the recipe exactly but it was simple enough so I just winged it. Here's what I did:

4 tablespoons of olive oil
200g of frozen vegetable mix (peas, carrots, beans, cauliflower)
fry them a little while until all vegetables have thawed
100g of white rice
half tsp of salt
half tsp of ground black pepper
1 tsp of ground tumeric
fry a few more minutes
2-3 cups of water
boil/fry until all the water has either been absorbed or evaporated

It came out funky as hell, had this weird sour-bitter taste all over, especially concentrated into pieces of cauliflower

Then I decided to try eliminating the tumeric, pepper and olive oil one by one and made the dish again.

First up was pepper and I didn't have to try the others because that was it. No pepper, no funky bitterness. I played around some more and found that if I add the pepper at any point after adding the water then there is no problem.

So I'm guessing that its frying with pepper thats somehow the problem, does anyone know why?

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    I wonder if your black pepper was not simply burnt - insufficient mixing, heat a touch too high, etc so that it scorched into unpalatable flavors. Perhaps even making it again with the pepper might not re-introduce that off taste, if it was a chance effect like that – Megha Aug 28 '18 at 6:58
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@Megha's suspicion of too-high heat is spot on.

The primary flavor oil in black pepper is piperine and its melting point of 130°C is below that of the Maillard reaction of 140°C to 165°C. You were likely frying the vegetables until they were nicely golden on the outside, which happens via the Maillard reaction. By adding ground pepper during that frying phase, the piperine is breaking down and adding a bitter flavor to your dish.

Potential solutions are:

  1. Grind the pepper more coarsely. With less surface area, the pepper will break down more slowly and you'll get more pepper flavor remaining and less bitter.
  2. Learn to enjoy the bitter.
  3. Wait until your veggies are all nicely browned and turn down the heat. Then add your pepper (and turmeric). You want some heat to melt the oils in the pepper so they migrate into your food but not enough to break them down. The piperine will start decomposing at boiling point. To retain the pepper flavor, don't boil your dish very long.
  4. Add pepper at the very end, after your water has been absorbed and the heat is reduced.

A fun and satisfying way to experience this is with a potato. Dice up the potato and divide into 3 parts. Add the pepper at the beginning of frying with the first portion of the potato. Add the pepper during the final minute of frying with the second portion. Finally, cook the last portion of potato to completion and then add pepper while the potato is in the warm pan. To compare, warm all three portions of the potato and compare the flavor. I don't mind bitter so I add pepper willy nilly for myself. My kids feel differently.

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  • Interesting, though melting at 130C doesn't mean it breaks down . I tend to add some pepper fairly late in the frying step, and more later when the dish is simmering. I'm quite tolerant of bitter flavours so perhaps get away with adding it a little too early, but done right the flavour mellows and spreads into the dish – Chris H Nov 5 '20 at 7:37
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    I'm with you Chris H, but I too am tolerant of bitter flavors. Some people are certainly much less tolerant of bitter and some apparently taste it much stronger than others. I often cook for groups in a commercial kitchen so it's rather important to know such people exist and to mind your pepper timing so as not to make a dish inedible for them. – Matt Simerson Nov 6 '20 at 8:28

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