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black pepper vs. white pepper

  • p

What is the real difference for a recipe. I've only used white when specifically noted in recipes. When I cook, not from a recipe, I always use black, so how would I know if white would be a better choice?

(also, I know about red...any others exist that are interesting)

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  1. I use white more for aesthetic reasons, when I don't want to see black flecks, like in chicken salad or on fish.

    1. I am with Jacques Pepin whom I never saw use white pepper, despite his classical training. I find the taste not peppery. I used to be very amused at the disagreement between him and Julia Child over this matter. Julia definitely thought that white pepper should be used in white sauces for aesthetic reasons and Jacques demurred. Anyway, for me the choice of white pepper is strictly for appearance and it has less flavour.

      4 Replies
      1. re: faijay

        I've always thought that Jacques and Julia's disagreements on their joint TV show were in some sense staged, or at least exaggerated. I think they were trying very hard to convey the idea that people should learn to experiment/improvise when they cook, and that there is generally not a need to stick to recipes. Excellent approach.

        1. re: Darren72

          Of course, it was possibly staged, and still amusing. However, I do think they really thought that about pepper. Have you seen Jacques use white pepper? If so, I guess it was all made up.

          1. re: faijay

            Jacques' little dig in this case was that he felt black pepper has flavor and white pepper does not.

            Their disagreements were always so cute and it was so obvious how much they respected each other.

            1. re: Atomica

              Boy I adored her and love him so whatever they said to each other was pure pleasure for this tv viewer.
              Now, white vs. black, I'm still confused...

      2. The skin is removed from the black pepper corn. The result is a white pepper corn . It produces milder flavor (in my opinion) It is used more for aesthetic reasons. In French cooking no one wants to see black pepper flecks in there white sauces. Same goes for any light sauce or light meats, fish or veggies. White pepper cost a few pennies more at the spice shop.

        1 Reply
        1. re: FAL

          Really??? My impression is that the color's different throughout ...

          In any case, I prefer the mild, refined taste of white pepper and use it for that reason instead. I keep it in my pepper grinder, and buy black and cayenne ground. I often use all three.

        2. White pepper tastes nasty! Who cares if there's little black flakes in their white sauce? If it bothers you, cover it up with some little green flakes of parsley.

          10 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            Nice zing? I'm with you, it tastes nasty!

            1. re: Ida Red

              There's white pepper and then there's white pepper. When obtained from a good source, it can be exquisite. Montreal's Olives et Épices -- a store that treats spices with the kind of obsession usually only found among wine and coffee geeks -- usually has four or five vintage-dated, artisan-produced varieties on offer; they're all interesting and the differences between, say, the Vietnamese and the Indonesian are striking. Several famous French chefs have pretty much stopped using black pepper in favour of white. In one of her cookbooks, Patricia Wells says she has, too. I doubt very much they'd describe the taste as nasty. My guess is that you and pikawicca have never tasted the good stuff.

              1. re: carswell

                Carswell, can you recommend a specific kind of white pepper? I'd like to try it.

                1. re: Ida Red

                  www.penderys.com Select white pepper corns #00025 1/2 lb will cost about $7.64. 1/4 lb. $5.29 it is Muntok, hot and pungent. I use as i said below in Asian foods, hot and sour soup would not be the same without it and a Cajun cook taught me to make really good Cajun you need black, white, and red and the three are all tasted seperately in differrent parts of the mouth.

                  1. re: Ida Red

                    Sorry, Ida. For white pepper and many other spices, I place myself in the hands of Olive et Épices, who let you taste before you buy. Though the shop's staff are certainly able to be more specific (specifying the region and even the name of the producer), the can merely lists the country: Indonesia in the current case. Will ask for details and recommended Internet purveyors the next time in the shop. You could also try contacting them directly (see link below for contact info) but I'd be surprised if they do shipping as they have trouble sourcing enough of these "épices de cru" (small-production "estate" spices) to keep up with in-store demand. Prices are high but not excessive for the quality; the top-of-the-line Indonesian white pepper goes for C$8 (about $7.25) for a 50 g (1.76 oz.) can. For an interesting interview with owner Philippe de Vienne see http://endlessbanquet.blogspot.com/20...

                2. re: Ida Red

                  I agree--have tried Penzey's and it still tastes horrible to me.

                3. re: pikawicca

                  Amen to that. When I first moved to England, I didn't realize that lots of restaurants use white pepper in the shakers on the tables. I kept wondering why my eggs at breakfast always had an awful smell. Maybe I've never had the "good stuff," but I'm in no hurry to switch from black pepper.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    What is up with the skunky way white pepper smells?! I just got a new bag from Penzey's, but it's the same smell.

                    1. re: Becca Porter

                      I always buy white peppercorns, and have never noticed any smell ...

                      My favorite are the ones from Williams-Sonoma that come in a little glass canister.

                  2. re: pikawicca

                    White pepper is not "my cup of tea" either........

                  3. I find black pepper a little more earthy and nutty than white pepper which has a purer pepper flavor. I think each has its place.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      Agree that each pepper has its place. I find black pepper to be quite assertive and hot on the tongue and sometimes turn to small pinches of white pepper for specific uses. I'm a little weird about the size of the grind as well, preferring white pepper very dusty and black the size of a pinhead. To me, white tastes and smells more minerally and mustardy where black can seems heavier/warmer, more like cloves or allspice. When I think of a heavy application of black pepper, it's on a big piece of beef, fried potatoes, spaghetti carbonara or creamy scrambled eggs.

                      I use white mostly in Swedish recipes (meatballs, terrines, gravlax, beet or cucumber salads, cream sauces), aromatic Vietnamese soups and pork dishes, French charcuterie (in quatre epices mixtures, where it marries well with the sweet flavors of ground pork, poultry), and grilled or fried chicken and duck wings.

                      Using the freshest white pepper is important, it seems to go stale and bitter more quickly than black. I pick up small amounts at Indonesian or Vietnamese markets, very inexpensive and pleasant.

                      1. re: petradish

                        Yes, I think your description of black pepper as heavy/warm is my perception as well. For flavor, I use white pepper in most of my Asian (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese) cooking where I want a sharpish bite, black in my European dishes which are spiced more simply. I pick black or white for Indian depending on the dish. I'm not too obsessed about the appearance of black flecks, taste counts more in my book.

                    2. I keep both on hand and I find that more Chinese recipes call for the white. The white has a bite or zing to it that the black does not. I keep both a black lacquer and white lacquer mill at hand obviously one for black and one for white. I order my whole pepper from Penderry's black Tellicherry and Muntok white.

                      Ground red pepper I buy where I buy spices for Indian dishes. The package is labled Red Chilly Powder. A little bit of that goes a very long way.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Candy

                        I like using white pepper in chinese dishes too. I wasn't too enamored of it until I had a terrific chicken dish at a Thai restaurant that had a lot of wp. After that the role of wp became more important and I even bought some from Penzey's. I use a little in the cornstarch marinade for meat for stir fry. I agree it does add a nice zing and I have found when used with other peppers adds more complexity to the dish.

                        1. re: Candy

                          i cannot eat congee without white pepper... it has that oomph that's so well accentuated in such a simple and plain dish. i cannot at all imagine using it in many other cuisines outside of asian foods.

                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            Agreed. I use it a lot when cooking Asian food at home, but never for any non-Asian dish.

                        2. So from what I gather, the general gist here is that you use white pepper for white dishes. I know I've used it in mashed potatoes so you don't get black flakes.
                          I ran out of white and have never replaced. If I were trying to impress someone I'd go back, but when it's just me and my wife, who cares.


                          1. I personally don't like white pepper either & avoid it!
                            Green peppercorns, which I buy in jars, are very nice in sauces.

                            Here's a quote: Black peppercorn--picked when the berry is not quite ripe, then dried until it shrivels and the skin turns dark brown to black. The less pungent white peppercorn has been allowed to ripen, after which the skin is removed and the berry is dried. The result is a smaller, smoother-skinned, light-tan berry with a milder flavor. White pepper is used to a great extent for appearance, usually in light-colored sauces or foods where dark specks of black pepper would stand out. The green peppercorn is the soft, underripe berry that's usually preserved in brine. It has a fresh flavor that's less pungent than the berry in its other forms.

                            1. White pepper has a sharper, but narrower, flavor profile than black. It is used more for aesthetic reasons but sometimes precisely for the difference in flavor profile. I would assume the former in recipes that are very light in color, the latter for recipes where it is not. I rarely use it.

                              1. I heard somewhere that white pepper is stronger than black..so don't use as much (if you use it). I prefer black pepper.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: melly

                                  Not true ... it's definitely milder.

                                  1. re: foiegras

                                    It depends on your tastebuds. It's more typically described as somewhat sharper but less rounded in flavor. A bit more heat, but less of the other flavors in black pepper, so it may or may not be perceived as milder. Some people are shocked by the heat in freshly ground white pepper after assuming that it's milder.

                                    Certainly, pre-ground anything is milder than fresh.

                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      Hmmmm ... well, I'm a supertaster (along with a quarter of the population I think it is) and use fresh-ground white and pre-ground black. My grinder produces a coarse grind, and of course pepper you buy is finely ground. My statement is true for my mouth :) I really do not care for fresh-ground black pepper and hastily turn it down whenever it's offered in restaurants.

                                  2. re: melly

                                    White pepper is hotter than black. Its heat is a definite spike that hits the back of the mouth. It's also not as complex -- has fewer flavor notes -- than black pepper.

                                    Enormous difference also between freshly cracked pepper of any color and pre-ground.
                                    It's almost like they're not the same thing.

                                    Good quality peppercorns of either color will also have more floral, autumnal spice and fruit aromatics and flavors.

                                    A number of years ago, I discovered that one of the simplest ways I could make all my cooking better was to purchase higher quality peppercorns, salt, olive oil and butter.
                                    As base flavorings for most of cooking, that nudge up in quality resulted in a huge improvement in flavor overall.


                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: MIKELOCK34

                                      This is true with all cheap, no name spices; and also when it gets here they package it in very unsanitary conditions (for example, whatever falls on the floor gets picked up and used). But if you buy name brands like McCormick etc, they process all their herbs and spices in totally sterile environments and hermetically seal the packages. You can smell the difference when first you open the bottle. That's also why they cost more.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        I like to buy spices like that in specialty shops.
                                        They're in small portions, so if I don't like, no big deal, I didn't buy a bundle full of any one spice.
                                        I got my white pepper in a small sealed bag at Granville Island in Vancouver BC. Must admit to not using it much

                                      2. re: MIKELOCK34

                                        just went through the posts again and can't see where I thought I'd already mentioned that I'd always heard people compare the smell of ground white pepper as being very reminiscent of smelly/stinky feet. guess now I know why they say that. my smell is absent currently but I do remember smelling white ground pepper before and thinking eeewwwwuuuuu :(


                                        1. I use white pepper with certain light-bodied (not neccessarily light-colored) Asian dishes, especially Taiwanese dishes. It goes well with sesame oil & rice vermicelli & cilantro. A little bottle of white pepper costs .69 at the Asian supermarket.

                                          I use black pepper with heavier Asian dishes, with beef, eggplant, chili, green peppers, fermented black bean.

                                          The sichuan or szechuan black peppercorns are another story entirely and have been discussed on other threads. The authentic ones have an initial incredible fragrant burst of fruity, rock-salt & lemon-peel aroma and then produce a tingling or numbing, anaesthetic effect on lips and palette. In combination with chili, these really rock. They were banned a few years ago, and have come back into the US market a year or so ago.

                                          1. White pepper, black pepper and green and red peppercorns are all from the same plant. They just have different harvest times and handling. A black peppercorn is picked when still green and dried in the sun until it turns black. A white peppercorn ripens fully on the vine before it is picked. white and black pepper are typically fermented and peeled before packaging.

                                            if you use in large quantities, like the white pepper in hot and sour soup, you can definitely notice a difference in taste. because the white pepper is on the plant longer, it has a slightly different essential oil / chemical makeup.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: taonut

                                              Actually, white green and black are the same plant.

                                              Not sure what you mean by "red peppercorns" but pink peppercorns are a different plant entirely.

                                              Szechuan are also a very different plant.

                                              I love and use all of these extensively.

                                              Here's a brief explanation of the three "stages" of piper nigrum as well as pink and szechuan peppercorns.


                                            2. haven't read posts so forgive if duplicating what others have said.
                                              pink peppercorns
                                              confetti peppercorns
                                              green peppercorns in brine

                                              although I've owned white pepper all my cooking life I too basically use black ground pepper.
                                              husband adores pepper whereas I adore salt so the pepper in the pepper mill is always confetti peppercorns>prettier on baked potato as the colors are nice using larger grind.

                                              in my cookies depending on what I'm making I use black or white pepper.
                                              ginger crinkles or molasses - black
                                              sugar cookies or shortbread cookies or blondies cookies - white

                                              1. I personally would never use white pepper, it tastes funky to my taste buds. I always use black peppercorns, because I like the taste and I also do not at all mind black flecks of pepper in my food. I think it is aesthetically pleasing to see coarse pepper and salt on food.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: cookjoe

                                                  I don't care for the white either. All I ever use anymore is tellicherry peppercorns. Not sure what it is about them that's different, but I put pepper on most everything (like cottage cheese) and the tellicherry variety is just better.

                                                2. http://food52.com/blog/3625-all-about...
                                                  I love this primer on all things ground/whole peppercorn
                                                  and don't forget the green ones and Grains of Paradise!

                                                  Never met a peppercorn I didn't like!

                                                  1. I use white pepper when called for and in a few other dishes. I buy ground white pepper and it is quite fine compared to the black from my grinder. I get a peppery heat from it, but not the nuance of black. When I have a cold I like a hearty dose of white pepper in my chicken soup - can't taste anything but the heat and I don't want the grit. I also like it on cottage cheese.

                                                    1. White pepper and black pepper are two different spices and have completely different flavors. They are not interchangeable and aesthetics have nothing to do with it.

                                                      11 Replies
                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        They are the same plant, picked at a different degree of ripeness:


                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                          Actually, white pepper is obtained by removing the outer shell of the black peppercorn. The removal of this outer shell changes the flavor of the peppercorn, thus the flavor difference in the white peppercorn.

                                                          1. re: GH1618

                                                            I don't know where that ochef site got their info, but previous knowledge and a quick google search both indicate that it's wrong.

                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              In any case, they are not "two different spices," merely two different forms of the same spice.

                                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                                It's just that most of the white pepper in the USA is of terrible quality.

                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                  Try your local Asian or Polish market. key ingredient for kielbasa, so you might find some decent imported there. i am careful about what I buy at international markets, but have found some good pepper at my local.

                                                                2. re: GH1618

                                                                  They are the same plant. They are different (as in not the same) spices, much the same as coriander and cilantro are different and mace and nutmeg are different.

                                                                  Related, similar, yes. The same? No.

                                                                  1. re: DoobieWah

                                                                    The same plant, yes.

                                                                    The same, no.

                                                                    1. re: DoobieWah

                                                                      I think sandylc is saying that they do not taste the same and do not have the same applications.

                                                                3. re: sandylc

                                                                  I agree. We have a spice mill with white pepper in it and I never use it. It seems much spicier than black pepper and I am a big fan of black pepper.

                                                                4. Here is what James Beard wrote about the difference (from Beard on Food):

                                                                  "White pepper is simply ripened more and is stripped of the black outer crust. It is somewhat more intense in flavor than the black but lacks its delightful aroma."

                                                                  He adds that "some people put white pepper into white sauces, to keep them chaste, and reserve black pepper for dark sauces." He thought this "a lot of nonsense" and used black pepper wherever he chose.

                                                                  So, while they do differ, they are to some extent interchangeable. You wouldn't likely use both, but would use the one you prefer, whether for appearance or flavor. I sometimes put white pepper in my cottage cheese, but am just as likely to use black.

                                                                  1. I'm aware of how black and white pepper are different, but white pepper tastes so much different than black that I consider it a different spice all together. I can usually tell immediately if there is white pepper in a recipe and I usually don't like it...except for on stir fry.

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: bigmanc5

                                                                      I have always thought white pepper had a dusty sort of flavor, so I never use it. Hmm, maybe mine actually is dusty, since I never use it.....

                                                                        1. re: Isolda

                                                                          No, it's that is the condition of almost all the white pepper sold in the US. The good white pepper reportedly is rarely purchased for resale on these shores.

                                                                          1. re: Isolda

                                                                            Agreed. One holiday I was making a potato dish and it called for white pepper. As it was a special occasion, I bought a canister for that dish. The taste was very distinctive and yes, dusty. Now, even if a recipe calls for it I still use fresh ground black pepper.

                                                                        2. Mother said that deviled eggs HAD to have white pepper in the yellow (yolk) filling and paprika sprinkled over the whole.
                                                                          Between the two, with a dollop of mustard and sweet relish in the filling as well, there was enough 'heat'.
                                                                          Needless to say, Mom's deviled eggs were the first to disappear at the church suppers.

                                                                          1. I make one potato casserole with white pepper, and sometimes I'll use it in a spice mix for comfort-type foods that are normally too bland, like in the batter/breading for chicken-fried steak.

                                                                            1. Here's one solution: use them all!

                                                                              1. DH can't tolerate finely ground black pepper (that you would buy pre-ground), but he is fine with coarse ground black or fine ground white pepper. So, if the recipe calls for ground pepper I use white pepper. If I am using it on, say, a steak to be grilled, I use coarse ground black.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: justme123

                                                                                  Can't stand pre-ground black pepper. Call it gunpowder.

                                                                                2. Black pepper has a big aroma and intense fragrance that it imparts to food and this takes a long cooking time before it begins to break down. White pepper has a delicate aroma and subtle fragrance but this breaks down quickly with cooking leaving just heat. For this reason white pepper is best suited for use after cooking, towards the end of cooking or with foods that cook very quickly where you want to add a subtle pepper flavor and heat but not substantially change the flavor of your food (which black pepper would do). Great with all fish, crustaceans & shellfish, veal, savory cream and egg dishes. My favourite white peppercorns are Sarawak White which come from Malaysian Borneo. They are very pale ( due to being soaked in mountain streams for 2 weeks), clean and have a rich-winey flavor and a big kick of heat.For a white pepper that is not as hot as Sarawak I like Penja Pepper best ( also known as the Pearl of Cameroon). Penja are large and light tan in color rather than white and add a beautiful soft, subtle woody note, again best with already cooked foods or proteins that cook quickly. Great with deep fried salt and pepper dishes especially squid or tofu, omelets & scrambles, crab, crayfish/lobster, seared scallops. (TheCulinaryLibrary, egullet member)

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: TheCulinaryLibrary

                                                                                    Hi, TCL:

                                                                                    Wow, I will try those pepper varieties. Thanks for all the information.

                                                                                    I'm surprised no one has pointed out here that black pepper is made from the whole, mature but unripe berries (which explains its richness in aromatics), whereas white pepper is made from fully ripe berries from which the fruit layer--containing the most peperine and terpenes--has been degraded by bacteria and rubbed away.

                                                                                    In my own cooking, I oftentimes like to add just a hint of something, dosed so low that it is unidentifiable *as* that thing, but with the power to synergize with the other ingredients. White pepper is one of my go-to's for stealth ingredients, along with mushroom powder. IMO, white pepper imparts a fantastic earthiness attributable to the fermentation process that removes the fruit layer. Harold McGee posits that the compounds created are skatole and creosol, but I skipped a few Chemistry classes, so I'll trust him on that.


                                                                                  2. White pepper is black pepper that has been washed or rinsed in water then dried. There is no white pepper grown in the tree. I work for a spice company and have received white pepper that had a fowl odor to it. This was caused by the water not being changed frequently enough when rinsing or "bleaching" the peppercorns. I would have to say that the flavor would be more muted because of this process...

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Joey12345

                                                                                      Since you have more knowledge than most, what spice companies (including your own, that's OK) would you recommend for unadulterated spices?

                                                                                      I always heard McCormicks, Tones, etc are the best processed, while the no name ones in the Asian stores etc will have feces and bugs ground in with it. Of course I heard this from the above mentioned spice companies!

                                                                                        1. re: Joey12345

                                                                                          "fowl odor"

                                                                                          It smells like chickens? ;-)

                                                                                        2. White pepper DOES taste like spicy dirt. End of story. If you like it fine, but I would NOT recommend serving a dish with white pepper in it in public. People tend to be over polite and will compliment almost anything in your presence. I'll say it again, white pepper blows chunks. Not okay for BBQ rubs either. NO NO no.

                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: pclark

                                                                                            Not the end of the story at all. White Pepper has it place.
                                                                                            Especially integral in Chinese and South East Asian applications and Black would not give the desired Flavor.
                                                                                            Why bother with the "If you like it fine" preceded and followed by the negative rant?

                                                                                            1. re: chefj

                                                                                              All of us feel strongly about some things. Years ago for my final HTML class project I designed a site devoted to chocolate. Most of the text I gleaned from other sites but my rant page about white chocolate was all mine own: an extensive, heartfelt diatribe outlining and detailing my belief that white chocolate is not chocolate.

                                                                                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                                                                                The Question stands, Why bother with the "If you like it fine"?
                                                                                                and then go on to say"White pepper DOES taste like spicy dirt"" I would NOT recommend serving a dish with white pepper in it in public.""white pepper blows chunks"" NO NO no"
                                                                                                It is like saying no offense but,.....