White pepper is one of the most frequently used spices, especially in potato dishes and white sauces. It is a great alternative to black pepper since it’s a more subtle variation that will still give you that peppery bite. But what do you do if you want to achieve similar results without using white pepper?
White pepper can be replaced in your recipes, as there are so many spices with similar aroma and flavor. And if you’re having trouble choosing the most adequate white pepper substitute, take a look at our list.
The best substitutes for white pepper
White pepper comes from the dried fruit of the pepper plant, just like black pepper. As opposed to black pepper, it has a milder taste, more suitable for delicate dishes. White pepper is available both whole and ground.
Since they come from the same plant, you may wonder what is the difference between white and black pepper? Black pepper requires unripe pepper berries, which are then dried, and this process results in black color and a more complex “peppery” flavor. White pepper, on the other hand, is produced from completely ripe pepper berries, which are then soaked in water and fermented.
After the process of fermentation, skins from the white pepper berries are removed, which eliminates most of the properties that give black pepper that harsh, hot aroma. If you want your white pepper to preserve its unique aroma longer, it is best you use freshly ground pepper and grind it right before adding it to the dish. Also, keep in mind that white pepper goes stale faster than black pepper, so make sure to always use a fresh batch.
While some people consider white pepper to be milder, others say that it may even have a sharper bite than black pepper. Nevertheless, white pepper may have less complexity in flavor, but it does have some unique musty and earthy notes. When cooking with white pepper, it is best to add it afterward to preserve its remarkable aroma and avoid getting a bitter flavor from overheating.
When shopping for white pepper, how do you know you’re getting the “real deal”, and not that processed stuff full of chemicals and additives? Always prioritize creamy white pepper, as beige and bleach white are most likely to contain sulfur. Also, if you’re buying whole pepper, their size should be equal, and beware of any specks of grey or black.
Whether you’re using freshly ground or whole white pepper, it will work great with pork, or in stews, marinades, salad dressing, and soups. And if you don’t have any at the moment, don’t worry – a replacement for white pepper is easy to find if you follow our guide.
1. Black pepper
Since they come from the same plant, black pepper is certainly the best substitution for white pepper. As we mentioned, white pepper does have a milder, less complex flavor and a less “peppery” aroma. However, if you don’t mind the sharpness of the black pepper, it can work just fine – even in more delicate dishes.
One of the most important things to remember when cooking with black pepper is to add a little bit at a time and not go overboard. However, if you happen to add too much pepper, find how to salvage your dish in our detailed guide.
Black pepper must be one of the most versatile spices since it can be added to pretty much any dish. It is one of the most important ingredients of many stews, soups, sauces, marinades, as well as salsa, cold sauces, and all kinds of meat and seafood.
2. Ground ginger
When it comes to the color and the texture, ground ginger is pretty much identical to white pepper. It has a creamy white, pale color, and just like white pepper, it won’t alter the color of your dish. As far as the taste is concerned, it is more on the mild side, yet sharp enough to add just the perfect dose of tang to any dish.
Ground ginger can replace white pepper in pretty much any meal, but it is particularly flavorful in soups and sauces. It is also mainly used in Thai cuisine and recipes such as Thai chicken curry, coconut chicken soup, Thai turkey burgers, and green curry with eggplant.
Keep in mind that fresh ginger and ground ginger provide different flavors and textures. You’ll find that fresh ginger is more fibrous and juicy, whereas ground ginger is obviously a powder, and it can withstand higher temperatures without losing its valuable properties and aromas.
3. Pink peppercorns
Did you know that, besides white and black pepper, there’s also pink peppercorn? In fact, pink peppercorns aren’t peppercorns, but dried berries from Brazilian pepper trees and Peruvian pepper trees. This substitute for white pepper grows in hotter climates, and even though they’re berries, they resemble peppercorns in shape and taste – hence the name.
When working with pink peppercorns, you should use them whole instead of ground. These berries are too soft to be ground, and doing so may also damage the blade. If you’re not too fond of adding whole peppercorns to your dishes, you can lightly crush them and sprinkle them into the dish.
Thanks to its vibrant pink color, pink peppercorns can also be used as a garnish. Their flavor is quite similar to black pepper, but it isn’t as strong. The aroma could be described as slightly fruity, sweet, and mild. Pink peppercorns work well in white sauces, dressings, seafood, as well as poultry dishes.
4. Green peppercorns
While black peppercorns are not fully ripe and are later dried, white peppercorns are completely ripe and later fermented. Green peppercorns, on the other hand, are picked before they mature, and are dehydrated later. As opposed to the hot, sharp flavor of black pepper, green peppercorns are more zesty, clean, and mild.
Green peppercorns work as a perfect white pepper replacement in dishes such as fish, cream sauces, curry, as well as marinades for all kinds of meat and seafood. It is safe to say that green peppercorns are an optimal choice between the boldness of black pepper and the delicacy of white pepper.
Since they’re young berries, green peppercorns are only mildly tart, but can still add a hint of hotness to your cooking. You’ll also love them in your pasta, potato salads, spreads, and other “lighter” foods.
5. Pepper spice blend
If you can’t really make up your mind about the right kind of pepper for your cooking, or you simply want the best of all kinds of pepper – a spice blend is an answer. Pepper spice blend can be found in most spice shops and regular stores, and it usually includes black, white, green, and sometimes even red peppercorns. However, keep in mind that these spice blends can often contain other spices, such as paprika, sea salt, and turmeric.
This white pepper alternative is ideal for anyone who finds white pepper to be too plain, and black pepper to be too sharp. A pepper spice blend will provide a perfect balance of different pepper savory and spicy flavors and aromas. It can be used for marinating all fish and meats, as well as for seasoning.
6. Ground mustard
Ground mustard is mustard in powder form, also known as mustard flour. It is a result of grinding mustard seeds and then sifting the seeds out to be left with fine yellow powder. Thanks to this process, ground mustard isn’t as strong and pungent as whole mustard seeds.
Unlike white pepper that is mostly added at the end of the cooking process, ground mustard releases its flavors and properties when soaked in liquid. This ground white pepper substitute will become your go-to seasoning for salad dressings, spice rubs, and rich sauces such as the one for mac&cheese.
Ground mustard is mild enough to be used instead of white pepper seasoning, but it does have a kick of spice to it. It is incredibly aromatic and fresh, perfect for dishes that lack complexity.
7. Turmeric powder
Turmeric powder makes for a great substitute for ground white pepper, as long as you don’t mind the strong aroma, dominant odor, and rich yellow color. This spice comes from the turmeric plant, and it is commonly used in Asian food – especially curry. The flavor of turmeric powder could be described as both warm and slightly bitter, with a hint of earthy and pungent.
Aside from being an extremely popular spice, turmeric powder has also been used as natural food coloring and even dye since ancient times. Turmeric powder is one of the main spices in Thai cuisine, especially when it comes to savory dishes and sauces such as yellow curry paste, golden vegetable curry, and yellow curry chicken.
Turmeric powder is often found in garam masala spice mixture. Aside from Thai specialties, it is a staple in Indian curries, and it is used both fresh and dried. Keep in mind that fresh turmeric root may be more bitter and tart when added to dishes than the powdered version.
While this may not be the most obvious white pepper powder substitute, it is a great way to spice up your dishes and add a subtle kick of heat. Paprika can be bought in powdered form, or you can simply pound dry paprika yourself for a fuller, more intense flavor. Just like turmeric, paprika has a vibrant color and it will most likely alter the color of your dish, depending on the amount.
Paprika is considered a versatile, universal seasoning, and it is usually made from a mixture of both sweet and hot peppers. If you’re feeling bold and your food spicy, make sure to choose paprika spice from hot peppers – but keep in mind that these can be rather hot. Paprika powder is not only used as a seasoning, but also as a garnish and even dye for eggs and fabric.
The most popular varieties of paprika spice include regular (sweet) paprika, Hungarian paprika (which has 8 different grades depending on the level of hotness), and Spanish paprika (which can be sweet, spicy, both sweet and spicy, or smoked).
9. Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is a tropical fruit, but can also be found in Mexico, Japan, India, Africa, and China. Ground cayenne pepper is also known as ground red pepper, and it has a specific reddish-orange color. Since it can be rather hot, it is best to carefully add it to your dishes little by little, especially if you’re not used to spicy foods.
Cayenne is considered a mildly hot chili pepper, so it is basically chili powder. However, different chili powders you find in stores can contain different spices such as garlic powder, cumin, and salt. Also, cayenne pepper can be found in different variations when it comes to the level of hotness, depending on the kind of cayenne pepper.
Keep in mind that cayenne is earthy, hot, and pungent, while other members of the same family, such as poblanos, usually have a milder taste. Also, store-bought chili powder is usually a mix of a variety of different peppers. Therefore, if you want cayenne pepper, make sure not to confuse it with chili powder blends.
10. Homemade spice mix
If you like to experiment with your spices and can’t imagine not combining at least a couple of them in a single dish, a homemade spice mix is the answer. A spice mix is easy to make, easy to use, and with a single sprinkle of it in your dish, you get a rhapsody of different flavors.
While you can combine as many kinds of spices and herbs as you’d like, here’s our suggestion:
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 2 ½ tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder.
11. Garlic pepper
Garlic pepper is usually a more diluted, subtle version of black pepper since it includes garlic powder or granulated garlic. It is also easy to make at home by simply combining these three ingredients:
- 8 tsp garlic powder
- 4 ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp parsley flakes.
Not only is it a great choice if you’re looking for a mild substitute similar to white pepper, but these two-in-one blends are extremely convenient and give an extra dimension to any dish.
How to choose a white pepper substitute
Choosing the best white pepper substitute depends on numerous factors. If you want to stick with that classic pepper flavor, you can’t go wrong with any of the pepper options, including black pepper, red peppercorn, green peppercorn, and pepper spice blend.
Ground ginger, ground mustard, and garlic pepper are close to the aroma of white pepper, but won’t add too much spiciness. They’re all mild enough not to take over the entire dish, yet sharp enough to stand out and elevate any type of food. Also, if you’re looking for just a hint of pepper, look for spice mixes or make one yourself.
If you want to add some warmth and dimension to your dish, but you don’t mind a stronger aroma that you typically don’t get from white pepper, go with turmeric powder or paprika. Keep in mind that both of these spices have strong, unique flavors, but aren’t too hot or sharp. Also, they’re great natural coloring methods you can use in sauces, soups, and even pastry.
Finally, cayenne pepper is a category of its own, since it can be rather spicy. Therefore, go with ground cayenne only if you’re feeling courageous and you’d like to get out of your comfort zone.