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Difference Between Black and White Pepper

Black vs White Pepper

If you’re an avid fan of TV cooking shows, you will probably have seen the infamous Jacques Pepin argue with Julia Child over pepper. And the debate? Which is better, black pepper or white? Of course, this banter would always end up with an to-each-his-own agreement, but this leaves the audience wondering what makes black pepper and white pepper so different? Apart from the most apparent variation, which is color, do they have a substantially varied influence on dishes? This we’ll find out as we take an in-depth look at the two kinds of what is considered the world’s most traded spice.

Despite their high-contrast difference in appearance, black and white peppers come from the same plant, scientifically called Piper nigrum, or in layman’s terms, black pepper. Native to tropical countries like India and Southeast Asia, they are cultivated for their fruit, popularly known as peppercorns. These fruits are then dried before being manufactured as whole, roughly-ground, or powdered. Pepper is not valued as the world’s most traded spice for nothing. It plays a revolutionary role in culinary matters as well as in herbal medicine.

Pepper is manufactured using varying methods. The most basic involves the washing of the peppercorns where the unripe drupes of the plant are simmered in hot water for cleansing. This at the same time prepares the drupes for the browning process, which will turn them from still-green to deep brown or black. Once the dying process is completed, the drupes are dried for days either in the sun or in drying machines. In the process, the drupe wrinkles, darkens and shrinks into what we know as black peppercorns. They can be roughly mashed, ground or retained whole. The end result is black pepper.

The manufacturing method for white pepper requires a several more steps in addition to those for black peppers. Unlike its counterpart, it requires fully-ripe peppers as its base material. They will undergo ‘retting’ or the process of soaking them in water for several days until the flesh softens, decomposes and leaves nothing but the bare seed. Some manufacturers use decortication or the use of chemical or mechanical interventions to peel the flesh off. The naked white seeds are then dried, producing a variation which we call white pepper.

The removal of flesh in white pepper strips off some of the essential flavors inherent to black pepper. In effect, white pepper tends to be more subtle than black. Its advantages is in food aesthetics. It adds a bit of spice to light-colored dishes without ruining their color. Most cooks prefer it in white sauces and meats. Black peper, however, is indubitably unsurpassable, especially to discriminating palates. It has a richer and more intense spiciness and aroma than white.

Both the black and white varieties are widely available in the market today. The latter, however, costs slightly more than the former because of the added intricacies in its production process.

Summary

  1. Black pepper and white pepper are both produced from the black pepper plant, scientifically called Piper nigrum. Black pepper uses unripe still-green drupes while white uses ripe red pepper fruits.
  2. What makes white pepper white is the absence of the outer fleshy layer that is present in black varieties. It employs a method called retting to peel the flesh off before drying.
  3. White is perfect for light-colored dishes, sauces and meats. However, it’s more subtle in flavor compared to its counterpart.
  4. Black pepper outdoes white in terms of richness in flavor, spice and aroma. It is also relatively cheaper than white.
  5. Both kinds are widely available in the market today. They can be purchased in roughly-mashed, ground or whole formats.

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