Some recipes call for whole peppercorns. Why not crack them and use a lot less? In a cooking show I watched recently the host specifically said "Do not crack or grind them" but he did not explain why.

The only reason I can think of is to make it easier to take them out of a sauce or soup if you want the taste of pepper but not the texture/appearance.

4 Answers 4


Unless you're straining the soup, I'd assume that the whole vs. cracked isn't going to be helpful in removing them, although I will admit that I can't recall seeing a recipe that called for whole peppercorns that didn't require cracking them.

Part of the reason for whole pepercorns is the surface area -- if you crack it, you'll create more surface area, and for the same amount of pepper, there'd be more pepper flavor.

It's also possible that there's a difference between the chemicals available in the outer hull of the peppercorn vs. the middle, but I don't know how you'd compare, simply because the cracked pepper would be more overpowering.

  • 1
    Is surface area really a reason? Sure, more flavor per amount of pepper, but couldn't you just use less cracked than whole?
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 13:52
  • @Jefromi : the problem is I have no idea how to conduct a good test ... the cracked pepper is also going to expose 'fresh' oils ... it's possible that's actually the issue, if there are some that evaporate earlier, in which case pre-ground pepper might be an acceptable alternative to whole peppercorns, but freshly cracked pepper wouldn't.
    – Joe
    Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 16:38
  • 1
    Good point. It does sound like we're all on the same page - there is some difference in flavor, including more sharp peppery flavor from freshly cracked pepper. Hopefully someone will come along and enlighten us further!
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 17:05

With whole peppercorns you will eventually bite into one, giving a burst of peppery goodness. This works only if the dish is to be cooked enough to soften the corns. I love to do this in soups and meatloafs. It could also work in casseroles.

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    This is one of the reasons I use whole peppercorns in my beef stew--yum! Commented Dec 20, 2010 at 20:07

Peppercorn, like many other spices, contains volatile flavors and oils. By cracking the peppercorn, you expose it. This is why freshly ground pepper is stronger and has more complex flavors than pre-ground.

However, the keyword here is volatile. For longer cooking dishes, those flavors can and will cook out. By not cracking your peppercorn, you slow that breakdown process.

This is fairly applicable to a lot of spices, not just peppercorn. It's just that only peppercorn can be cracked or VERY coarsely ground.


I don't have a good answer for you, but I can share my experience

Usuaully I put whole peppercorns in when making stock or soup, I think it gives a more full body favor. At the same time, it doesnt over spice the dish. Cracked peppercorns will give out a more spicy taste.

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    I can think of two good differences in whole peppercorns: easy to add/remove from soups and stocks, and likely a more mellow taste. Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 16:57

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