Nope, it's not salt — it's white pepper.

By Melanie Fincher
July 01, 2020
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Credit: Sommai Larkjit/EyeEm/Getty Images

When you think pepper, you probably think about the ground black specks that fill the shaker on your kitchen table. But did you know pepper doesn't just come in black? Confusing, right?

White pepper actually comes from the same plant as black pepper, but the difference between them comes down to how they're picked and processed. Learn the difference between white and black pepper. Plus, get tips on how to cook your favorite recipes using white pepper.

What Is White Pepper?

White pepper, like black pepper, is made from the berries of the pepper plant, also known as the Piper nigrum. Unlike black pepper, however, white pepper comes from berries that are picked at full ripeness. These berries are then soaked in water to ferment. Finally, the outer layer is removed leaving only the inner seed.

Because the skin is removed, some of the flavor is taken, including the piperine. As a result, white pepper tends to be more mild than black pepper.

While black pepper is far more common in American kitchens, using white pepper in light-colored dishes for visual appeal is a tradition that originated in French cooking. It's also common in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Swedish cooking as well.

White Pepper vs. Black Pepper

The difference between white and black pepper comes down to how they're picked and processed. We've already established that white peppercorns are berries that have been picked at a peak ripeness, soaked in water, and then had the outer layer removed.

Black peppercorns on the other hand are unripe berries from the pepper plant that are then dried, causing the skin to blacken. While black pepper gives off more of a spicy heat (due to the piperine), white pepper's flavor is described as more earthy and musty.

Health Benefits of White Pepper

Like black pepper, white pepper has been found to promote gut health and speed up digestion. White pepper also has very few calories, and can add significant flavor to a dish, lessening the need for salt.

While white pepper contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals (like vitamin C, calcium, iron, and manganese) you probably won't be consuming enough of it to see any measurable benefits.

How to Use White Pepper

There are a number of reasons you might choose to use white pepper over black pepper. If you want to get the flavor without the heat or color of black pepper, you'll want to use white pepper.

For example, you might choose to use white pepper in creamy soups or chowders in order to hide the appearance of pepper specks. Because of the widespread popularity of white pepper in Asian cuisine (pepper originates from India, but Vietnam is the top pepper producer today), many will associate its flavor with that of Chinese soups, marinades, and even stir fries.

If you're looking to substitute white pepper for black or vice versa, keep in mind how this might affect the flavor of your dish. White pepper is said to have a more complex flavor profile because it has been able to ripen longer, and it has been fermented.

How to Store White Pepper

Unfortunately, white pepper has a shorter shelf-life than its black counterpart. However, peppercorns will store longer than ground pepper. You'll want to keep it stored in an airtight container away from any light. Whole white peppercorns can last about three years, but ground white pepper will lose its potency after just three months.

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