Green peppercorns are a go-to spice for certain classic French dishes and many Thai ones as well. They are worth keeping in your spice cabinet if you are a fan of recipes from either of those two food cultures; however, you may have a hard time finding them if you run out unexpectedly. Consider one of the substitutes below if you need a substitute for green peppercorns in a hurry.
Your best bet: White peppercorns
White peppercorns are from the same plant as green and black peppercorns, which means that they have a similar nutritional value and at least some of the same flavor notes. Their whiteness allows them to be used in creamy sauces without the aesthetic downside of black pepper’s black specks.
Unlike green and black peppercorns, white pepper is made with the ripe berries of the Piper nigrum plant. Just as harvesting the berries while green and preserving them ensures a more complex flavor, so does allowing them to ripen. White peppercorns have a more complex flavor when compared to the black variety, which is harvested while unripe and then dried. In addition, white peppercorns are soaked to remove the black exteriors of the berries. Because the skin is the source of the volatile oils that give black pepper its heat, white peppercorns are mild like green peppercorns.
Use white peppercorns as a 1:1 substitute for green peppercorns.
A decent second choice: Capers
Capers are the unopened flower buds of a Mediterranean flower called the finders rose and have been used as food since ancient times. They are intensely bitter when consumed fresh, but pickling transforms the flavor. The need to get rid of the bitterness is why capers are usually served pickled. They are renowned for their salty, lemony flavor.
Capers are about the same size as green peppercorns and are spherical and green, which gives them a similar appearance. They also have a similar texture and can be used in virtually all of the same dishes that require green peppercorns, especially since brined peppercorns are salty as well. While brined capers do have a tartness that you will not get from green peppercorns, that flavor note pairs well with most of the flavors used in dishes that require green peppercorns.
Use capers as a 1:1 substitute for green peppercorns in any dish.
In a pinch: Pink peppercorns
While their name may make them sound like a relative of green peppercorns, pink peppercorns actually come from a completely different plant. They are the fruit of the baie (or baies) rose, also known as the Peruvian pepper tree. The plant is unrelated to Piper nigrum.
Pink peppercorns have a relatively mild flavor, even though they do deliver some low-level lingering heat. Their mildness makes them a great alternative to green peppercorns. They are as different in appearance as their names indicate, but they are both widely used in the same kinds of dishes. Both are popular for use in creamy sauces. Both also improve the appearance of those sauces.
Use pink peppercorns as a 1:1 substitute for green peppercorns.
If you cannot find any of the substitutes above in your local grocery store, you may want to opt for a substitute that is much easier to find. Green olives are not considered a spice, but can provide a similar green color as that of green peppercorns. Chopped green olives can provide a firm texture and briny taste that should work well in most dishes for which green peppercorns would be used.