White pepper is widely used in Asian cuisines and is a must-have, especially in an Indonesian kitchen. It has a milder, smoother flavor than black pepper, with a slightly earthy and hot taste.
- Piper nigrum (scientific name)
- Safed mirch (Hindi)
- 白胡椒 / bái hújiāo (Chinese)
- Lada putih (Indonesian)
What is White Pepper?
It may surprise you to know that white pepper and black pepper all come from the same plant. That plant is piper nigrum, or the pepper plant, a vine that produces berries.
White pepper is a spice from the seed of the ripe berries of the pepper plant. The fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week so the flesh of the peppercorn softens and decomposes. The outer skin of the berries is removed, leaving only the seed inside. The seeds are then dried to make white peppercorns.
White Pepper vs Black Pepper
White pepper and black pepper come from the berries of the same plant. The difference between them starts when the berries are picked. To make black pepper, unripe berries are picked and they are dried, which blackens the skin and adds flavor elements.
Meanwhile, white pepper is processed when the pepper berries are fully ripe. They are soaked in water for about a week, leading to fermentation. Then, their skins are removed, which also removes some of the hot piperine compound, as well as volatile oils and compounds that give black pepper its aroma. As a result, white pepper has a different flavor and heat component than black pepper.
What Does White Pepper Taste Like?
White pepper is milder with a less complex flavor than black pepper. It has a sharp, spicy, and smoky flavor that is perfect for adding a clean and light spiciness without being too overwhelming. It can have a musty, earthy, or grassy flavor, which can vary depending on the type of processing used and handling after production.
Whole vs Ground White Pepper
You can buy white pepper as whole peppercorns and drop them into your favorite grinder, or you can buy it as a fine powder. Whole white pepper retains its flavor for much longer. If you want the most flavor, grind it fresh before using it. Ground white pepper is readily available, but it will lose its potency faster over time.
White Pepper Substitutes
For small amounts of pepper, white and black pepper may be swapped. When larger amounts are called for, it’s not recommended that a substitution is made, as the two peppers do have distinct tastes and the taste difference will be more noticeable. Finally, in any recipe where white pepper is used because the food is white or light colored, the swap with black pepper will clearly be noticeable.
Where to Buy
You can find white pepper in the spice section of your supermarket. If your local supermarket does not have it, look for it at Asian grocery stores or online.
Store white pepper in a tightly sealed container away from light. The whole white pepper will store longer than ground white pepper, which will lose its flavor and potency after about three months. It won’t spoil and will be safe to use, but you may need more to get the same flavor in your dish. For this reason, it’s wise to purchase ground white pepper in smaller quantities that you will use in a shorter time frame.