Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between white pepper vs. black pepper? This diverse spice is used in dishes across the globe, from salads to meatballs to stir fries and hot and sour soups. But before we dive into it, it’s important to know the basics about pepper to begin with.
Pepper comes from the Piper Nigrum plant, otherwise known as the pepper plant. Native to India, pepper helps transform bland food by enhancing the flavor and adding depth and spice, depending on how much you put in.
Both types of peppers contain the antioxidant compound piperline, which is located in the peppercorn’s inner pit. That’s what activates the temperature receptors on our tongues and creates that tingly sensation with black pepper.
White Pepper Vs. Black Pepper—What’s The Difference?
While both peppers come from the same plant — even from berries on the same vine — there are different distinctions you should know between the two types.
When the berries are harvested and how they are processed determines whether they are black or white peppercorns.
Black peppercorn berries are harvested while they are still green and set in the sun to ferment and dry, which shrivels them up and caused them to turn black. White peppercorns are picked at full ripeness and fermented in water before their outer layer is removed, leaving only the inner, smooth, white-colored seed.
White peppercorns taste milder than their black counterparts and give off more of an earthy taste. Black pepper is more recognizable and adds a spicy flavor. Some refer to black pepper as bold and floral and describe white pepper as more grassy.
Black pepper has a longer shelf life than white pepper. While any ground pepper powder will go bad after two to three years, according to the USDA, intact peppercorns last for two to four years. Using a grinder or pepper mill will help you make the most of your peppercorn purchase. Be sure to store them in a cool, dry place at room temperature.
White Pepper Vs. Black Pepper—When To Use Each In Your Cooking
The decision to use either white or black depends on the flavor profile of the meal and the final presentation. Swedish and French chefs favor white pepper, and it’s also popular in Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cooking.
A nice benefit of using white pepper is that it blends in well, just like salt would, to the dish, whereas black pepper specks are easier to spot in light-colored dishes. Some chefs prefer using white pepper to season dishes that would otherwise be more noticeable like béchamel and mashed potatoes.
Black pepper is perfect for punching up barbecue dishes, vegetables, meat and fish. Luckily, you can substitute black pepper for white pepper and vice versa in most recipes. Although, it’s a good idea to think about how flavorful you want the pepper to be and adjust ratios accordingly. It’s perfectly fine to use them interchangeably in small quantities.
Not sure which one to use? That’s OK! Keep a bottle of both in your pantry and experiment. When in doubt, start with a small amount of the milder white pepper and go from there.