Choosing the Perfect Pepper: A Comparison of Black Pepper and White Pepper
Pepper (Piper nigrum) is a seasoning commonly used to add savory, warm and slightly spicy taste to food. The plant itself is a vine that grows in tropical climates with segmented stems . On these stems, the pepper fruit will grow in clusters similar to grapes. The color is initially green, then turn to orange and then red color when ripe . These fruits will be processed further to obtain the black pepper and the white pepper that we use for spice.
Although black pepper and white pepper come from the same plant, they have distinct differences in appearance and flavor. So, what causes these differences and what are the differences between the black pepper and the white pepper?
1. Harvesting Process
Black pepper comes from the pepper fruit that is harvested when it is underripe, when the color of the fruit first starts to turn red. Then, the fruit is dried, and will turn black after 3 days of drying. Meanwhile, the pepper fruit can also be harvested when it is fully ripe, or when the color is red like a tomato. When the outer skin is removed by the soaking process, the white seeds that remain is called the white pepper .
In line with their respective names, black pepper exhibits shades ranging from black to grey, while white pepper, whether in peppercorn or powder form, maintains a distinct white coloration. Regarding the specifics, black peppercorns display a distinctive appearance characterized by a wrinkled, dark black outer layer following the drying process. In contrast, white peppercorns exhibit a light color spectrum, ranging from cream to pale yellow after the outer skin is removed. .
The flavor of black pepper is generally stronger and spicier than white pepper. This is because when the skin on the white pepper is removed, the piperine compound which causes the pungency taste is partially lost . However, the taste of white pepper is more complex, nuanced, and fruity because of the soaking process where the length time affects the taste significantly.
Because of these differences, black pepper and white pepper have different use in food. Black pepper is generally used to enhance the food taste and is usually used when cooking red meats and root vegetables, such as grilled meats, burgers, and mushrooms. Meanwhile, the white pepper is used to give a warm taste to food, and commonly used in soup, such as porridge, chowder, or creamy soup [3,5].
Piperine is a compound that is responsible for the spicy taste and properties of black pepper and white pepper. Piperine is slightly soluble in water at 18 degrees Celsius and the solubility increases with increasing temperature. Piperine is more soluble in alcohol solvents compared to in water. According to Liu et al (2018), the piperine content in black pepper is around 4.01% - 4.15%, while in white pepper, it is around 3.32% - 3.44% . The piperine content influences the antioxidant properties, where black pepper is more effective in scavenging free radicals and ROS (reactive oxygen species) .
The piperine content in white pepper is lower because of the soaking process which not only remove the skin, but also piperine and some volatile compounds. As evidence, the essential oil obtained from white pepper is around 2.3%, whereas the essential oil from black pepper is 3.07-3.81% . In addtion, the piperine and volatile oil content also depends on the pepper type, growth location, and the processing method.
5. Shelf Life
In general, black pepper tends to have a shelf life that is twice as long as that of white pepper. Nevertheless, both black and white peppercorns, particularly in powder form , can extend their longevity. It is advisable to store them in an airtight container, shielded from light exposure.
Can Black Pepper Substitute White Pepper and Vice Versa?
Replacing white pepper in food recipes with black pepper and vice versa depends on personal preference. The amount used also needs to be adjusted because black pepper is more visible, while white pepper does not affect the appearance as much. For example, if one wants to substitute black pepper with white pepper, it is better to use twice the amount of white pepper to achieve the same taste. However, replacing white pepper in some dishes, such as white soup or creamy soup is not recommended because black pepper can affect the color of the dish .
In the end, black pepper and white pepper are equally good depending on the application on the food.
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 Liu, H., Zheng, J., Liu, P. and Zeng, F., 2018. Pulverizing processes affect the chemical quality and thermal property of black, white, and green pepper (Piper nigrum L.). Journal of food science and technology, 55, pp.2130-2142.
 Lee, J.G., Kim, D.W., Shin, Y. and Kim, Y.J., 2020. Comparative study of the bioactive compounds, flavours and minerals present in black pepper before and after removing the outer skin. LWT, 125, p.109356.