White pepper is a common element in many of our Chinese dishes. When it comes to Asian cuisine, white pepper is nearly typically used instead of black. The question is, what is white pepper, how is it utilized, and how is it different from black pepper?
Since it is used so frequently, we felt it was only fair to provide some background.
In this concise article, we will discuss everything.
What Is White Pepper? What Makes It Different From Black Pepper?
White peppercorns, black peppercorns, and even green peppercorns are all berries from the same plant, which may come as a surprise to you. The pepper plant, or piper nigrum, is a climbing vine that bears fruit commonly known as peppercorns. Peppercorns are the dried, cured and otherwise treated fruits from which pepper is made.
The green, unripe berries of the shrub are harvested, cooked in boiling water, and then dried to produce black pepper, the most popular spice obtained from this plant. The outer berry skin around the seed will turn black and contract as it dries, revealing the seed within. A black peppercorn is what you get when you dry the pepper.
In contrast, white pepper is made from fully mature berries picked from the pepper plant. The berry’s outer covering is peeled away, exposing the fruit’s seed. White peppercorns are derived from the seeds, which are then dried.
The difference between the white and black kind comes down to two factors: when the berries are gathered and processed (ripe or unripe) and whether the whole berry or only the seed is used to make the spice.
How Does It Work?
White pepper is sometimes used for its visual appeal in white sauces and dishes in Western cuisine. If you were in a French cooking class and making a bechamel (a sauce prepared with a roux and milk), your instructor could recommend using white pepper instead of black to prevent the appearance of tiny, unappealing black specks. The French, ah yes.
It is used more frequently than black pepper in Asian and Chinese cuisines. Unless otherwise indicated, it is always the go-to for our Chinese fare.
In Chinese, white pepper is known as bái hjio, and it is used in a wide range of preparations, from broths and marinades to sauces and stir-fries. For instance, you may be shocked to learn that white pepper, and not chili, provides the slow-building heat in your go-to takeout hot and sour soup.
How Does It Taste?
While freshly ground black pepper has a more floral, pungent perfume, white pepper’s earthy, more equally hot/spicy flavor reaches you in the back of the throat.
Purchase And Storing
It’s a little trickier to track down than conventional black pepper, but you should be able to get it at any supermarket or Asian market. As a last resort, you can also find it on Amazon.
Pepper is available both whole peppercorns, which can be ground in a pepper mill or coffee grinder and as a powder.
In stir-fries, we favor using freshly ground. The powder is used everywhere, that whole peppercorns would be too chewy, such as in marinades and soups. Keep in mind that white pepper has a greater flavor when freshly ground than when used in powder form.
Keep this ingredient unopened and in a cool, dry location. Rather than buying pepper powder in bulk, it might be better to invest in whole peppercorns, as they will keep for much longer.
White Pepper Alternatives
You can use the black variant as a substitute for the white kind if you don’t have any, but white pepper will give your Chinese food a much more genuine flavor.