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Jul 15, 2006 12:44 PM

black pepper vs. white pepper

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.

          11 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

         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

                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.

                      1. re: Becca Porter

                        The white pepper I've had smells and tastes like the elephant cages at the zoo smell. Everyone except my sister who agrees thinks I'm crazy.

                    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.

                      3 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.

                          1. re: petradish

                            Petradish has nailed it - perhaps the only intelligent answer on this whole thread. If you cook with any real sense of taste then you will realise that pepper isnt a general purpose seasoning. Different peppers are used for different purposes; steak calls for either the dark, spicy earthiness of black pepper but is equally happy with the vinous green pepper. Asian dishes, particularly pork, need white pepper. Could you imagine Thai grilled pork "Moo Ping" that has cilantro root, garlic and pepper if it wasn't made with white pepper? It needs that astringent, almost bitter edge to make it work.
                            As an Englishman I love freshly ground white pepper on eggs at breakfast, the best ever being 2 eggs fried in lard (pork fat) on top of a slice of white bread that's been fried until golden in pork fat, sprinkled with white pepper, a grilled sausage and/or a slice of smoked bacon, perhaps a slice of black pudding too. The white pepper really, really makes the difference to the eggs, and everything else too.
                            I almost forgot; a cup of very strong Assam tea, milk, no sugar.