White pepper is known for its sharp bite and is used to add extra flavor to Chinese soups, marinades for meat and poultry, and spicier stir-frys. It's also used in white sauces and dishes such as potatoes where the color of black pepper would detract from the appearance of the dish. What is white pepper and how is it different from black pepper or Sichuan peppercorns?
How White Pepper is Produced
Like black pepper, white pepper comes from the dried fruit of the pepper plant, piper nigrum.
With white pepper, the dark outer skin of the pepper fruit is removed by soaking before the seed is dried. To make black pepper, unripe pepper berries are picked and then they are dried, which blackens the skin and adds flavor elements.
White pepper is made from fully ripe pepper berries. They are soaked in water for about 10 days, leading to fermentation. 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.
How Does the Flavor of White Pepper Differ from Black Pepper?
White pepper is described as being spicier and fruitier than black pepper, but less complex. Some say it has a musty or earthy flavor others say slightly smoky. It's best to only swap one for the other in small amounts in a recipe if you need to make a substitution.
White pepper should be added after the dish has been cooked, as overheating can release a bitter flavor.
Sichuan pepper is a different species entirely, Zanthoxylum, that is not closely related to white or black pepper. Its heat element acts in a completely different way,
Uses of White Pepper in Chinese and Asian Cooking
Unlike other Szechuan dishes, where chilies play a prominent role, hot and sour soup gets its heat primarily from white pepper.
White pepper is often used in Vietnamese soups and pork dishes. Perhaps because if its use in these cuisines, some people associate its flavor with Asian food when they use it on scrambled eggs, for example. Here are more recipes that use white pepper for Chinese and Asian dishes.
- General Tso’s Chicken
- Egg Drop Soup
- Hot and Sour Soup
- Mango Chicken Stir-fry
- Baked Chicken Chow Mein
- Chinese Dumplings (Potstickers)
- Wonton Recipe (Pork and Shrimp Wonton)
Uses of White Pepper in Other Cuisines
White pepper is often used to add spice to white or light-colored foods where specks of black pepper would make a less attractive dish. It is used in creamed soups, vichyssoise, and clam chowder. It can be used with mashed or whipped potatoes. It can be used in white sauces, pasta salads, and seafood dishes.
White pepper is often used in Swedish dishes as well, such as Swedish meatballs with cream sauce. It is called vitpeppar in Swedish.