White Pepper

March 4, 2010 25 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 12 March 2019 11:38 am

Comments (25)

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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.

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:


    • Diana DeGray says:

      when I think of earthly I think of beets. I love them but they seem to have the taste of earth when I eat them. Like Stef says, I like green to yellow banannas much better and when they are yellow to brown way to sweet for me

  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:


      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/

      • VaL says:

        Consider that this could also have to do with the whole difference in ripening duration.
        Certain chemicals could be further developed or concentrated during the ripening process.
        I am able to eat black pepper. It will tingle a bit but that’s it.
        White pepper will cause my tastebuds and my mouth to swell, itch, and the skin to crack.

  7. Stef says:

    I found this to be very interesting. Mostly because I ran out of my tellicherry peppercorns and had some back up white ground pepper someone had given me and used it in my food last night and this morning. I thought for sure I was crazy last night because I kept getting a flavour that reminded me somewhat of BBQ. However, as I like flavour complexity and had enough other things going on in my sautee I didn’t hate it as much as most BBQ-esque things.

    This morning was another story. Again, still out of pepper (going to get some tonight) and so I used a couple liberal pinches of the white stuff I had on my toast with avocado, tomato and egg. Yep. Do not really like it. I get why people would pair it with cumin, because I can taste subtly the similarities, but again too something for me.

    Reading about the fact that it was a fully ripened and skinned pepper (if you will) piqued my interest. I don’t like overly ripe fruit for example, it has to be kind of just getting there typically (especially for banana), something about the tartness. I also really like bold flavours and things most people find to be bitter. Now I’m just curious if I don’t like anything that’s ripened with the exception of cheese.

    Thanks for the interesting read.

  8. Kampot Pepper North America says:

    This is a great article. I always ask customers which one they prefer, and the results obviously vary, but the most popular choice is white.

  9. Tink says:

    I used white pepper today because I didn’t have black. I used it in my chicken noodle soup. It had no oomph. It did leave a feel in my mouth but I wouldn’t say heat. I also do not detect subtle flavor instead it almost annoyed me kinda tasted pepper but not really. I hadn’t thought about using for the color difference it after tasting it in my soup id say it’s flavorless by comparison. I’ll try it in more dishes and see but overall I’m not impressed.

    • Tink, my only question would be how long have you had the white pepper stored in your cabinet? All peppers will lose some of their heat over time so if your white pepper has been sitting there for years, it may be why it has lost its spiciness. Saying that, I just looked up the difference between white and black pepper and found Cooks Illustrated saying, “LESS HEAT, MORE COMPLEXITY: White pepper has a different flavor profile than black. Only substitute black pepper if the amount called for is small.”

  10. Chuck says:

    Because of battles of kidney stones, I have been put on a low oxalate diet and told to stay away from black pepper to substitute white pepper instead. Any thoughts ?

  11. Andrew Wolfe says:

    We live in a region of the world Amazon doesn’t deliver to, and our local grocery sadly does not have whole white peppercorns — just ground.

    I brought most of the ingredients with me from America for from-scratch Thai green curry paste, but I foolishly thought, “I’m sure I can find white peppercorns over there.”

    So now I’m going to have to substitute ground for whole. I’m wondering, what is the ground white pepper equivalent of a tablespoon of whole white peppercorns, for a similar spice level?

    None of the other top Google results have this equivalence… They have other ground-to-whole equivalences, but whole white peppercorns are a bit too rare to have on the popular lists.

    Thanks in advance!

  12. Jayaraj MS says:

    Nice post. Thank you so much for the share. This is really very well and informative content.

  13. Erin says:

    I too am very allergic\intolerant to White Pepper but not black. In regards to this questioning the validity of actually being allergic, I had an ELISA food intolerance test done. This test takes your blood and tests it against 500 or so foods and chemicals. My blood reacted to white pepper as well as several others. I’ve proved its true about 15 times in the last 17 years since that test, and I definitely react terribly to white pepper as I found out after having colitis attacks that white pepper was a hidden ingredient. It’s not an anaphylaxis type reaction, but still quite severe which will cost me a day of being down very sick. I know this is a few years behind the other comments, but still wanted to provide my experience as well.

  14. Bakersalts says:

    Very helpful article mate. As you mentioned there is always debate in between chefs over which peppercorn to use. I personally prefer to use White peppercorns due to the earthy taste.


  15. Patty DeFerrari says:

    I too taste elephant cage in white pepper…..

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