White Pepper

March 4, 2010 11 Comments

White Pepper

All About White Peppercorns

In some culinary circles, there is hot debate over which sort of pepper to use, white or black. Some chefs use white pepper strictly for aesthetic reasons: they use white pepper in white or light-colored dishes and sauces so there won’t be any black flecks.  Other chefs find white pepper to be a more complex yet subtle flavor than that of black pepper, which can be pretty in-your-face.

Still other chefs really dislike white pepper and refuse to use it. Famously, Jacques Pepin always disagreed with Julia Child on their show, Julia and Jacques:  Cooking at Home, regarding the use of white pepper. Julia used white pepper for aesthetic reasons, and Jacques hated the stuff and used black. He was even willing to “suffer” black specks in his béchamel!

So what is all the fuss about? Is there really a huge difference between white and black pepper?

Are there certain times when one should be used over the other?  Honestly, the bottom line, as it so often is in cooking, is use what you like.  For those of you unfamiliar with white pepper, it comes from the same plant as black pepper. Just like green bell peppers allowed to ripen on the vine eventually turn red, white pepper is allowed to ripen fully on the vine, and then the now red or yellow outer skins are removed.

This can be accomplished in a couple of ways.  The skins can be soaked off in water, or the skins can eventually be rinsed off by letting water flow over the peppercorns continuously.  The second method results in a much cleaner final product, although both taste very similar. After the skins are removed, the creamy white centers are dried.

And what does white pepper taste like?

It is a little bit hot, a little bit winey and a lot earthy.  For me, the key distinction between white and black pepper is white pepper’s earthiness.  In dishes where I want to highlight earthiness, I use white pepper.  In dishes where I am just looking for a base note of heat, I use black pepper.

Some cuisines lend themselves more naturally to one over the other.  For example, white pepper is widely used in Indian, Asian and Mexican cuisines.  To me, the food from these regions is very earthy and highly spiced.  I don’t necessarily mean “hot,” just well spiced.  Although I often use white pepper in white sauces, I really use it more for the flavor than the aesthetics.  I also love to pair white pepper with another of my favorite earthy spices, cumin.

While you can purchase ground white pepper, I recommend buying whole white peppercorns as the flavor will last much longer.  Black and white pepper both begin to lose potency upon grinding, so grinding fresh right before using will give the best pepper flavor.

Occasionally, I have seen whole white peppercorns at the grocery store, but they are usually very expensive, and they can be difficult to find.  I recommend buying them in bulk at Amazon.com where you will find a large selection.  See White Peppercorns.

Last modified on Tue 17 December 2013 9:19 pm

Comments (11)

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  1. samantha james says:

    really interesting information. had discussion with husband on the subject of what/where does white pepper come from & now we have the answer. thank you

  2. Tyler says:

    The word “earthy” sounds pleasant. But white pepper makes me immediately feel like I’m in an elephant cage. I wonder if I’m more sensitive to some compounds in white pepper.

  3. Molly says:

    I love white pepper, I agree that it has a more complex flavor than black and is also a bit spicier but in an oddly subtle way. I often use it instead of black in many recipes. I never really thought of it as being earthier, but that’s a good description. Good info.

  4. Pras says:

    Thanks for the info and especially the reference to flavour/use..

  5. Becky Wiley says:

    I’m having trouble with my diet, my Dr. said no black pepper.that it don’t digest. I’m on a slow digest diet. I was trying to find out if White pepper dissolved. On my list, my avoid list is twice as long as the allowed side. I’m trying to be creative.If you could let me know about white pepper. Thank you. Becky

  6. clare cojanu says:

    My Grandson is highly allergic to white pepper…and not to black pepper
    Restaurants should post ingredients in their recipes. We always have to ask
    at any restaurant if they use white pepper.

    • Suche Einen says:

      My Grandson is highly allergic to white pepper

      that is surprising because both black pepper and white pepper are same botanical plant: Piper nigrum. White pepper are fruits that are allowed to fully ripen on living plants before picking. After picking outer layer is removed either by a mechanical process or by soaking in water and let outer skin rot and easy to remove. Former process of using only mechanical method ought not change chemical composition but still small amount of skin matter may still be there. So it is the skin which your grandson is allergic to. Alternatively it could be that rotting method was used and it changes chemical composition.

    • TB says:

      Sometimes in white pepper processing, hydrogen peroxide is used to ‘polish’ white pepper and give it a clean creamy look. Additionally, it acts as an anti-bacterial. I wonder if your grandson is allergic to hydrogen peroxide.

    • Tarototh says:

      Agreed.

      Not to be an armchair physician but being allergic to one and not the other sounds like a misdiagnosis. Ask your allergy specialist what it is about black vs white that is different. Some people just say they are allergic to things they don’t like. White pepper is the seed heart. Black pepper is the seed heart PLUS THE SKIN OF THE SEED! So you are getting LESS of plant in white pepper, so it makes no sense to be allergic to the seed heart ONLY, when you are eating that same heart in black pepper.

      Only the preparation method might be the answer. How they extract the seed heart. Only use white pepper extracted using pure water.

      From an article:
      “Something important to note is that if you are allergic to black pepper, then you will more than likely be allergic to white and green pepper corns in the same forms. This is because black, white, and green peppercorns comes from the same fruit (seed pod) in different stages of growth and processing.” Full article here: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/symptoms-you-may-be-allergic-to-black-pepper/

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