When putting whole black pepper in a stew e.g. curry, am I right in thinking that they completely dissolve because I don't remember seeing any in the finished pot or dish.

I was reading alternatives to using chilli and black pepper was listed so I thought if I want to try it, maybe I should make a fresh ground black pepper then add it in the same way one would add chilli powder.

However it has occured to me since whole black pepper dissolve in curries, what would be the point fine grounded black pepper to replace chilli, wouldnt the fine black pepper just dissolve too and hence you may as well use whole ones as you will end up with the same result/flavour?

  • 2
    Usually it is oxygen and oxidation which causes degradation of spices or herb or flavors and that is why sometimes things come whole and not cut up. If you could keep oxygen away from the spices when grinding and storing then they will maintain more of their flavors.
    – Chloe
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 17:51
  • Peppercorns give you little spicy bursts of flavor. Ground pepper heats up the whole curry. It's probably easier to notice this in cabbage plus vinegar plus caraway plus peppercorns vs. the same with ground pepper. Quite a different taste experience. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


Well, I've never had whole black peppercorns dissolve. In very long cooking, and depending on the variety and age of the peppercorn, they can soften somewhat. But when adding whole peppercorns to a dish, I either plan to remove them after cooking or be prepared to bite into a serious bit of pepper every now and then. To avoid this problem, I generally at least "crack" or crush the peppercorns a bit if I intend them to be in the final dish. (This aids in softening and seems to allow the flavor to blend a bit more, though large bits can still be very peppery.)

Black pepper tends to lose a lot of subtleties of flavor quickly once it is ground, which is why pepper grinders are so common in restaurants (and at home). There's no advantage of using pre-ground pepper in a soup or stew, but I definitely tend to grind it myself right before adding to avoid the large chunks of peppercorns. (Different varieties of peppercorns can vary a lot terms of potency, especially when they are fresh, so perhaps yours are more mild than the ones I generally use and thus less noticeable when in larger chunks.)

Some people buy pre-ground pepper and find it convenient, though. My one caution, if using pre-ground pepper and you desire a very peppery dish, is to not overdo it. Whereas whole peppercorns will gradually release subtleties of flavor, pre-ground pepper can change somewhat quickly from barely noticeable to a burst of strong pungency.

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    I usually throw pepper etc into a teabag when making soup or cabbage or anything not too viscous, really. Same with spices for mulled wine. That way I can use the spices as I prefer them without having to either hunt for them later or eat them whole.
    – Kakturus
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 12:18
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    @Kakturus FYI it's called a bouquet garni Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 13:44
  • @MikeTheLiar Good to know. Just thought I'd mention that there is at least one other option aside from ground pepper and loose corns in the stew.
    – Kakturus
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 8:14

Peppcorns don't dissolve.

They soften, and they give up a lot of their flavour, but they don't dissolve. Neither does ground pepper but that's pieces too small to spot. I'm not sure why you're not finding the peppercorns but after I cook stock overnight they're whole and swollen. I've tasted them: the peppery taste is present but mild, and they're soft.

The mellow flavour of pepper that's been cooked for a long time is good, but not the same as freshly ground pepper added at the end or at the table. In many dishes I use both.

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