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5 Types of Peppercorns You Should Know

Including what makes each one unique.
By Published Apr. 24, 2019

Nearly every ingredient list calls for pepper next to salt. Pepper rouses our palates for the meal before us and adds spice and depth to anything it seasons. There are lots of varieties of peppercorns, beyond just the basic black (though that one’s important, too). Some are spicy and smoky, and some are a little more tart. Others are sharp and include floral notes. One of them will even leave your mouth tingling. Here are five different types that are worth stocking in your pantry, plus ideas on how to use them.

Black Peppercorns

Beyond its heat and sharp bite, black pepper enhances our ability to taste food, stimulating our salivary glands so we experience flavors more fully. It has complexity and depth from sun-drying. 

Tasting Notes: Spicy, pungent, floral, smoky, and/or citrus-y depends on varietal.

Try With: Red meat, smoked fish, citrus salads, caramel desserts, Parmesan or Manchego cheese; use as your everyday pepper.

Green Peppercorns

Green peppercorns, which resemble capers, are simply unripe black peppercorns and are usually soft. They’re sold dried or packed in brine or vinegar.

Tasting Notes: Pine and juniper notes. Flavor is tart and bright when compared with black.

Try With: Stuffings, sauces for fish or pork loin, hearty green vegetables, cauliflower, salad dressings, oyster mignonette; add whole or lightly crushed.

White Peppercorns

White peppercorns are fully ripened black peppercorns that have been soaked in water to ferment, and their outer skin is removed before the berries are dried. Although stripping the skin away removes much of the volatile oils and aroma compounds (most notably piperine, which is responsible for pepper’s pungent heat), allowing the berries to ripen longer lets them develop complex flavor, while fermenting adds a layer of funky earthy flavor.

Tasting Notes: Sharp, floral, citrus and licorice flavors.

Try With: Light-colored cream sauces and soups, flaky white fish and shellfish, clam chowder, mashed potatoes, stir-fries.

Sichuan Peppercorns

These small, reddish brown husks aren’t peppercorns; they’re the dried fruit rinds from a small Chinese citrus tree called the prickly ash. They don’t add heat per se; instead they contribute a unique tingling or buzzing sensation, much like carbonation, that can even trigger salivation in some. This is due to a pungent compound called sanshooi that acts on receptors that usually respond to touch.

Tasting Notes: Lively, lemony, menthol-like, numbing.

Try With: Bloody Marys, sweet potatoes, buttered popcorn, cucumber salads with rice vinegar and sesame oil.

Pink Peppercorns

Also not peppercorns, striking pink peppercorns are a berry from a tropical evergreen. They do carry some heat like true peppercorns, however.

Tasting Notes: Mild, fruity, floral.

Try With: Creamy custard desserts, game meat, fatty fish, roasted shallots, Camembert, fruit such as raw watermelon or grilled peaches.