Black Pepper vs White Pepper...In The Great Peppercorn Debate, Application is Key

Black Pepper vs White Pepper...In The Great Peppercorn Debate, Application is Key

Katherine Loffreto

The great peppercorn debate rages on. Are black or white peppercorns better? It’s a question that wars have been waged on and has stumped the brightest minds of the world for ages. Ok, it’s not quite that dramatic. It’s unlikely that any wars (or even small skirmishes) have been fought it the name of peppercorns. But it is a serious question. The two exist, and in reality are simply different versions of the same spice, and yet the question remains, which one is better? Well, that’s a tough question to nail in any definable sense. Because when you’re speaking about seasoning in a general sense, both black and white peppercorns are not good in all situations. Therefore, one is not necessarily better than the other, but rather, they each have their own preferred uses and applications.

Let’s take a closer look at the origins of these two seasonings, and just what makes them so special. If there’s one spice that has infiltrated American kitchens more than any other, it has to be Black Pepper. It’s been in the hearts and kitchen cabinets of Americans for centuries! Black Pepper is indigenous to India, where as early as 1000 BC, traders from Southern Arabia controlled the spice trade and pepper routes. Eventually, the Silk Road was born. A trade route that stretched over 4,000 miles and allowed Italian traders to sell pepper as a luxury item in medieval Europe. As more trade routes were established, pepper’s popularity quickly spread throughout world cuisines. At one point, it accounted for nearly 70% of the international spice trade. As it became more readily available, the prices dropped, and ordinary people like you and I were able to enjoy it! Not just for the kings and queens anymore!

The White Malabar Peppercorn is from the Malabar region of Southwest India. It consists solely of the seed of the ripe fruit. White pepper is made from fully ripe pepper berries. The darker outer skin of the berries is removed by soaking the berries in water for about a week – so that the skin softens and decomposes. It’s that very soaking process that gives the White Peppercorns their distinct earthy perfume. Then their skins are removed, which also removes some of the hot piperine compound, as well as volatile oils and compounds that give black pepper its aroma. As a result, white pepper has a different flavor and heat component than black pepper. The process used and handling of white pepper can introduce different flavor notes as well. The flavor itself is very complex. Upon first smelling, you’re in store for cheesy earthy notes – maybe even a hint of “something gone bad” – but don’t worry! That’s all part of the layers. The flavor is distinctly earthy and musty with notes of fermented vegetables, aged cheddar, barks and roots. White pepper has a hot taste on the tongue, although sources differ on whether it is hotter or milder than black pepper. For example, Cook's Illustrated says it's milder, while others say it has a sharper bite. Sources agree that white pepper is less complex in flavor than black pepper. It can have a musty, earthy, or grassy flavor, which can vary depending on the type of processing used and handling after production. Some also note nuances of citrus. So many different layers!

The white and black peppercorns each have their own distinct flavor profiles, and therefore should be used in different manners and applications. For instance, the dark woodsy cocoa flavors of the black peppercorn are best when paired with heavier meats and root vegetables. Think beef roasts, lamb, burgers, roasted carrots, mushrooms, duck – that kind of thing! On the flipside, our Malabar White Peppercorns are ideal on lighter more delicate proteins and produce – think seafood like bass, scallops, and swordfish; meat like chicken and pork; and veggies like spring peas and ripe summer tomatoes.

At the end of the day, one peppercorn isn’t better than the other, more importantly, how you use them is key. The application is paramount to allowing the spice to really shine.