White Pepper vs Black Pepper: What's the Difference?

White Pepper vs Black Pepper: What’s the Difference?

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Dried, ground black pepper is one of the most common spices in Western cuisine. But every once in a while, we come across a recipe that specifically calls for white pepper. The central ingredient is used worldwide in many different cuisines but not all peppers are the same. So what’s the difference between white pepper and black pepper? Why do some recipes call for it? Is there a difference? Well, today you will find out.

Both white and black peppercorns are actually small dried berries from the same pepper plant, which is native to India.

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Image: Tony Pham

Despite being extremely popular around the world, the major producers of pepper are Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, China, and Malaysia. Pepper comes in many colors, green, black, red and white but all comes from the same plant, and the color is related to how ripe it is and how it has been processed. According to some records, pepper has been used in cooking for over 2000 years! In the past however, the spice was only eaten by the wealthy because of how expensive it was.

The difference between white pepper and black pepper has to do with when the berries are harvested and how they are processed.

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Despite the fact that both white and black pepper come from the same plant, the process of harvesting and the method of process is what gives them the distinct flavor profiles. The berries used to make black pepper are harvested before they are ripe. Once the unripe green berries are picked off of the plant, they are cooked and dried until the pepper seed gets its unique look. White pepper, on the other hand, is made from fully ripened berries. The ripe berries are soaked and fermented in water. Once the outer shell is removed, the inner seed is revealed, and it is once again dried.

While black pepper is prized for its spicy, woody, warm, and herbaceous taste, white pepper has a more mellow, earthy taste.

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Image: Christina Rumpf

Since white pepper loses its outer shell during the manufacturing process, it also loses the chemicals that gives it the spicy flavor. At the same time the berries for white pepper are harvested after they are fully ripened, which means that they have a more complex, earthy flavor.

White pepper is popular is Asian cuisines whereas black pepper is considered a standard ingredient in most Western cuisine. Despite their differences, you can still use one for the other in most recipes.

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According to The Pioneer Woman, if the amount of pepper you’re using is very small, you can usually swap white pepper for black pepper and vice versa without a noticeable difference. However, if the recipe relies on a certain type or amount of pepper, then it’s best to stick with the specified type.

According to All Recipes, white pepper has less calories and can add significant flavor to a dish, lessening the need for salt. It also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals but you probably won’t be consuming enough of it to see any measurable benefits. White pepper also has a shorter shelf-life span but storing it in a tightly sealed container away from light can help it last longer.

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