The different flavors of pepper are as varied as its colors. The heat and subtle flavor of white pepper is perfect for seasoning meat and sauces.
White Pepper as a Spice
Pepper is by far the most-used spice in the world. The heat and flavor of the berries, known as peppercorns, differs depending on their color. The variation in color does not relate to different species of the pepper plant — it indicates how ripe the peppercorns are. White pepper has an intense heat, with the flavor taking somewhat of a backseat. This spice was treasured way back in ancient times and was even used in ancient Roman cuisine. During the Middle Ages, pepper became a status symbol and was used as a means of payment. We still use the term “peppercorn” in the legal system to convey a small payment.
White pepper adds a hot kick to dishes, though little in the way of taste, so it is rarely used as a standalone spice to characterize the flavor. Instead, white pepper tends to be used to create a balanced and full-bodied flavor in dishes. It is ideal for use in white sauces like béchamel sauce where black pepper would compromise the esthetics. White pepper is used to season marinades, fish, grilled and fried food, soups, sauces, dressings and salads — it’s hard to think of a savory dish that wouldn’t benefit from a little white pepper. Pepper should always be ground fresh using a mill or pestle and mortar as it quickly loses its flavor.
Pepper should only be added after food has been fried or stewed. It can become bitter when exposed to high heat and loses its flavor when cooked for a long time in its ground form.
The evergreen pepper plant comes from Malabar in the west of India and today is grown mainly in Asia, Madagascar and Brazil. The tropical shrub has large leaves with long stems and around 20–30 drupes on each panicle. White pepper is produced from black peppercorns that have been soaked, peeled and dried. The distinctive heat of white pepper comes from the alkaloid piperine and its derivatives. This substance triggers a heat or pain stimulus that is interpreted as a hot flavor. Our body responds by releasing happiness hormones to make the “pain” more bearable.
- Scientific Name
- Piper nigrum
- Pepper family (Piperaceae)