MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What’s The Difference Between Black Pepper & White Pepper?

Black pepper can be found on just about every table in both homes & restaurants…but did you know that that pepper shaker is hiding a secret? What we call “pepper” isn’t actually from a pepper, nor is it actually black (at least, not in its natural state). And that’s just black pepper. Could the same be true for white pepper, too? What are black pepper & white pepper really? And how are they different from one another?

Black & white pepper look different…they taste different…they’re used for different reasons…but they do have some things in common. They both start out as berries from the same plant, the Piper nigrum, a plant that originally hails from India. To get black peppercorns, farmers harvest small berries from the Piper nigrum when they’re green & not yet ripe, then they cook & dry them until the berries’ outer layers shrivel up & darken. White peppercorns, on the other hand, are totally ripe berries from the same plant as “black” peppercorns, but they get soaked in water & fermented so that the inner seeds separate from their skins before the seed portion gets dried, which ultimately produces “white” peppercorns.

Those two different processing techniques draw out very different flavors from the berries: black pepper is bold, floral, and spicy; white pepper is mellower & has a more earthy flavor. Their uses are different, too: black pepper is a staple in most of our American foods, while white pepper is favored more in Asian foods. White pepper does get used in European recipes, though. However, it’s usually used mostly for its visual characteristics. (One example would be French chefs using white pepper in creamy sauces, mashed potatoes, and other whitish dishes so that black specks won’t be visible in their fancy food.)

White pepper & black pepper are very similar, while also being very different spices. But you can successfully use one in place of the other in most recipes with tasty results. That’s exactly what I like to do, and I encourage you to do so, as well. Because, hey…as they say: “Variety is the spice of life!”

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

BROUGHT TO YOU BY: Berryville Graphics