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Other than color, what is the difference between white pepper and black pepper? I thought it was purely a color thing so that black pepper wouldn't ruin the color of, say, a white sauce. We tried white pepper in a few dishes and in all cases, they were wretched. (FWIW: one recipe was Alfredo sauce.) The only things I can come up with are:

  • There is a substantial difference between the 2 and we apparently do not like white pepper
  • There is not a substantial difference but we got a bad batch of white pepper
  • There may or may not be a difference, but the recipes we tried should not have included this spice

Which is correct?

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3  
I wouldn't put pepper in Alfredo sauce. Why do recipes always call for "salt and pepper to taste". I whole lot of food that I cook is better sans pepper and should never include it. I always ignore that line. Salt is important, and I agree with the "to taste" part, since different people have vastly different thresholds for what they consider salty enough (based on the amount of salt regularly consumed). –  Adam Shiemke Aug 27 '10 at 14:18
    
My in-laws only use white pepper. I like it fine, but a little goes a really long way. They will use it as if it were black pepper, which means that some things that would be delicious with a large amount of black pepper are uniformly wretched at their house. –  bikeboy389 Nov 19 '10 at 22:09

8 Answers 8

up vote 12 down vote accepted

They don't taste identical at all, and even more important, they don't smell the same. White pepper has a distinct "barnyard" odor. People do indeed use them when black flecks might be unpleasant, but in most cases I'd rather go pepperless or just live with the color.

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2  
+1 for "barnyard" odor. Yes, yes it does have that odor. I don't think I will ever use it again. –  JustRightMenus Aug 27 '10 at 21:30

I vote for #1 on your list.

The white pepper is simply black that has been soaked and the outer skin was removed. Recipes seem to call for white pepper in light colored sauces just to keep them white. I have read that they should taste identical.

Anecdotally- the couple times I have used white I have had experiences exactly like yours. I found it bitter and very unpleasant. I don't use it anymore.

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Same plant for both. Black pepper is unripe fruit (green), picked and sun dried til it turns black. White pepper is the fully ripe seed stripped of its outer husk.

Here's the first link that google gave me to verify. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_pepper#White_pepper

Also, Harold McGee has a couple of pages in "On Food and Cooking" for further detail.

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I am not sure the white pepper is made from the fully ripened fruit. Further, white pepper is not the fruit itself but rather the seed stripped of the surrounding flesh. –  iman1003 Aug 27 '10 at 20:16
    
"White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe peppers are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes." –  wdypdx22 Aug 27 '10 at 20:43
    
@iman1003 - my bad typo. –  wdypdx22 Aug 27 '10 at 20:44

I found an interesting article by Harold McGee, where he writes that the substance rotundone is contained in much higher concentrations in white pepper than in black, and goes on to note:

...they tested 49 people and found that about 20 percent of them could not detect rotundone at all, even at concentrations far above what’s found in white pepper. The scientists say this shows the different experiences two people can have of the same wine, or of the same pepper-seasoned food.

So the recipe you tried may well have been created by someone far less sensitive to the flavor than yourself and your family. Something worth keeping in mind when seasoning food for a group...

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I think they taste a little different. It seems to me that black pepper is more spicy when you first eat it and white pepper seems to be more of a lingering spiciness.

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Black pepper and white pepper are differing preparations of the fruit of the Piper nigrum plant.

Black pepper is made from the unripened, green fruit. It is dried, whereupon the fruit shrivels leaving the distinctive black, wrinkly exterior.

White pepper is the fruit's dried seed without the encapsulating flesh. The flesh is removed by a process called retting, essentially the process of allowing microbes to eat away the tissues surrounding the seed.

The two variants do have a differing flavor as the flesh of the fruit contains terpenes which give pepper much of its scent and flavor. White pepper's flavor can differ depending on how long the retting process was allowed to take place. This may be what produced the off flavors you found.

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Yes white pepper has a very distinct flavour. Many people perceive it to have a "hotter" flavour, while having less complex flavours than black. If the white pepper flavour seems to dominate a specific dish, I'd simply use less. A lot of recipes call for it simply because of the colour. Personally, I think that's ridiculous as the flavour is very different. I quite like the flavour, but wouldn't add it to everything. If you're trying to find a use for it... find flavours that better compliment the usage of it. It is used in a lot of Cantonese soups and sauces, for example.

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Personally, I prefer the taste of white pepper on things like potato chips - and as a benefit, fine white pepper sticks better to the chips, where no matter how fine I grind my black pepper, they do not stick to the chips well enough.

On the flip side, grainy black pepper on top of a well-grilled steak... Just something to die for.

So, my comments address point 3 in your question, as well as the "to taste" element of some of the answers above.

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Can someone enlighten me about the reason for the downvote? Comparing some of the other answers above that were not downvoted? My answer is relevant to a degree? –  Kobus Myburgh Nov 8 '13 at 10:56

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