Did you know there's actually more than one type of pepper? I know I didn't. While I often only think of black pepper when I think of pepper, white pepper exists as well. After discovering this, I got curious and wondered what exactly the difference between white vs black pepper is. Here's some of the research to help you out.
More Than Looks
The difference goes further than appearances. The difference between white and black pepper is how they're made. Both types of pepper are actually made from berries from the piper nigrum plant. In terms of black pepper, it's made from berries that have not yet ripened. These berries are dried until the skin becomes blackened, therefore creating black pepper
White pepper, on the other hand, comes from fully ripened berries. They either soak them water, and then the skin is removed, or the skin can be removed through continual rinsing in water, which helps the pepper become cleaner in the end. The removal of the skin takes away some of the flavors, such as the piperine.
What I've learned from this is that the two types of pepper are made from the same berry, which is interesting, as my ignorant self did not know pepper even came from a plant. They're processed differently, which can affect the price, the shelf-life, and to some degree, the taste.
I plan on going out and buying both now to find out for myself which type I like better. I may even do my own experiments with some friends, and find out if the difference is noticeable among them.
Does it Matter in Recipes?
According to Cook's Illustrated, when recipes call for large quantities the type of pepper used will make a noticeable difference. In a taste test using the different types of pepper in a soup, the black pepper gave off a spicy heat, while the white pepper tasted more floral and earthy. This is interesting considering other sources classify white pepper as being the spicier one of the two.
They also tested a stir-fry recipe, which called for a smaller amount of pepper, and the difference was not as obvious among taste-testers. Both of the recipes tested called for white pepper. Spiceography.com states that white pepper is actually spicier, saying the spice is "more pronounced." The site also says that the difference between the two should not matter in many recipes.
That being said, it is important to note again that the two types of peppers should not be substituted for one another without consideration for how much is needed, as it will affect the flavor of the dish.
White pepper is also typically more expensive because of how much longer it takes to make it. White pepper also has a shorter shelf life. Buying whole white peppercorns can help the flavor last longer, should you be determined to purchase it.