Long pepper and black pepper are close relatives; both belong to the Piperaceae family. As relatives, it makes sense that they would have a lot in common and they do; however, they also have some major differences. You will need to know what makes each spice unique when you are deciding between them. Let’s break it all down in another SPICEography Showdown.
What are the differences between long pepper and black pepper?
The most obvious difference between long pepper and black pepper has to do with looks. Long pepper’s elongated conical shape is the reason for the word long in the name and gives it a very different appearance when compared to Piper nigrum’s symmetrical spheres. It also has a slightly different color in that it is not quite as dark as that of black peppercorns; instead, it is more of a deep brown.
The next most important difference is the flavor. One of the biggest similarities between these spices is that they get their flavor and many health benefits from the same alkaloid compound, which naturally makes them very similar; however, the flavor profiles are not identical. Long pepper’s flavor profile is more subtle and complex than black peppercorns’. Whether or not its heat is more or less intense is a matter of some controversy, but most experts come down on the side of long pepper’s heat being the milder of the two.
Lastly, there is the matter of availability. While long pepper has seen a resurgence in its popularity in recent years, it continues to be an exotic spice with limited demand. In comparison, black pepper is second only to salt in its popularity. To find long pepper, you will have to buy it from an Indian grocery store or a retailer who specializes in spices. You can find ground black pepper or black peppercorns in virtually every grocery store on the planet.
Can you use long pepper in place of black pepper and vice versa?
Long pepper can make an excellent substitute for black pepper in almost all of the dishes that require it. Both spices appear similar when ground and have a similar flavor profile. Similarly, tellicherry peppercorns and other black peppercorns can be used in any dish that requires long pepper. Note that due to the slightly milder flavor profile of long pepper, you may have to use a little more of it than a recipe requires for black peppercorns. Similarly, you would reduce the amount of black pepper or peppercorns when using them in place of long pepper.
When should you use long pepper and when should you use black pepper?
While you can use long pepper in any recipe that requires black peppercorns, it has not been a common feature in European cuisine for much of the last few centuries. This means that you won’t see a lot of classic recipes that require it. However, it has been widely used throughout Indian and Chinese food cultures. Use it in any of the Indian curries that require it and in spice blends like garam masala.
Use black peppercorns in dishes that need the classic black pepper taste as well as a slightly harsher heat. Black peppercorns are a true all-purpose spice that you can use in dishes from all over the world, including ones as disparate American barbecue and French steak au poivre.