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

Pepper is one of those kitchen ingredients that everyone takes for granted, yet it is used in every meal, along with its natural counterpart, salt. When most people talk about pepper, they are referring to black pepper, but that is not the only kind of pepper.

If you want to mix up your usual dinner rotation with little effort, it may be an idea to start with the basics and swap out black pepper for white pepper. But will this change your meal too drastically? Or are the two peppers as similar as they seem? 

The fruit (or drupes) of the black pepper vine are harvested at the same time to make both white and black pepper. However, black pepper is sold as the whole peppercorn, whereas white pepper is just the inner seed of the drupe, which affects the overall flavour of the pepper. 

What is White Pepper?

In the West, white pepper is not as widely used in the domestic kitchen, but in the commercial kitchen, it is a much-loved way to add some extra flavour to a dish with a white base. 

However, white pepper is utilised predominantly in Vietnamese, Swedish, Chinese, and other world cuisines because of its flavour. 

White pepper is harvested from the black pepper vine before the drupe (the type of fruit that pepper classifies as) is entirely ripe. Then the drupe is sundried until black in colour creating peppercorns. 

White Peppercorns

Peppercorns consist of two layers, the outer layer and the inner seed. The outer layer is discarded to create white pepper, and the white inner seed is used as white pepper.

With half of the peppercorn being thrown away, white pepper lacks complexity in its overall flavour. However, it is spicy because the inner seed used for the pepper is the main source of heat. 

How I Use White Pepper

White pepper is excellent for blending into light-coloured dishes like bechamel sauce, mashed potatoes, and cream-based soups without altering colour. I also find it works particularly well in Asian stir-fries.

What is Black Pepper?

Black pepper is harvested as a drupe or stonefruit from the flowering vine of the same name. Harvesters gather the drupes while they are still green and unripe, making the pepper taste complex as the drupe is still developing its full flavour. 

Once harvested, the drupes are briefly cooked in some water to clean them then left to dry, traditionally in the sun, which is what turns the peppercorns black and shrivelled.

They are then sold either as whole black peppercorns or ground for easier use in the kitchen, where their piney, complex spice is used widely. 

Some cuisines feature dishes that focus entirely on the woody, hot bite of black pepper, such as cacio e pepe.

However, for the most part, black pepper is used in a similar way to salt to give an instant boost of flavour to pretty much any dish you can think of, from eggs to pasta to salads. 

How I Use Black Pepper

I use black pepper everywhere! Whether it’s to season a steak, a stew or a soup. I’ll also use it in salad dressings and sauces. Of the two, it’s the most versatile pepper type.

Similarities Between White Pepper and Black Pepper

It is not often that you will find variations of the same kind of spice, but that is essentially what white pepper and black pepper are, variations of each other.

As such, there are some similarities they share: 

Source Plant 

White pepper and black pepper are variations of the same drupe or stone fruit that are produced by the black pepper vine (piper nigrum). The plant is native to India but has now been cultivated all around the world. 

Harvesting Time

To make white pepper and black pepper, the drupes of the black pepper plant are harvested at the same time. That is to say when the fruit is not entirely ripe. 

Drying Process

A key part of making white pepper and black pepper is washing the drupe once they have been harvested and then letting them sun dry until the shells of the peppercorns have turned shrivelled and black.

This process enhances the natural flavour of the peppercorns and makes them work so well in food. 

Differences Between White Pepper and Black Pepper

White pepper and black pepper may have similarities, but their differences are key and affect the overall use of the different peppers than their similarities:


As their names would suggest, black pepper and white pepper are not just different in taste but also in their appearance.

Black pepper, even when ground, will easily stand out in lighter-coloured dishes, whereas white pepper is pale and lacks colour, making it blend in better with white-based dishes. 

Overall Taste

Due to only being made from part of the whole peppercorn (the inner seed), white pepper is not as complex in flavour as black pepper.

That is to say that it lacks the deep layers of flavour that black pepper has, which will not elevate your dish as much as black pepper, hence why black pepper is the preferred ingredient in most cases. 

Level Of Spice

Black pepper is made using the whole peppercorn that, while complex, lessens its spicy impact. White pepper is predominantly focused on its spiciness. A difference that is very evident when used in a dish. 

Is White Pepper Hotter Than Black Pepper?

Generally, white pepper is considered to have a sharper, hotter taste compared to the more complex, robust flavor of black pepper.


Black pepper is by far the most popular spice out of the two when it comes to worldwide use.

You will find black pepper in almost every main meal and sometimes even sweet treats, similar to how you will find salt. White pepper has too much spice and too little complexity to have as varied use as black pepper. 

Can You Substitute White Pepper for Black Pepper?

Yes, you can substitute black pepper for white pepper in a recipe, but it’s important to note some differences in flavour and appearance. Black pepper is often more pungent and robust, while white pepper is milder and more delicate.

White Pepper vs Black Pepper: Which Wins?

If you know what each of these peppers is like, it can actually be hard to pick a favourite as both have their uses. But, if you were forced to, which would you vote for between white pepper vs black pepper:

Do You Prefer Black Pepper or White Pepper?


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