Peppercorn Medley Vs. Black Pepper — How Do They Compare?

Peppercorn medley and black pepper both contain black peppercorns in different forms, and they are also typically found in the same part of a grocery store’s spice aisle. Aside from their similarities, there are some dramatic differences between the two products. Which should you get if you can get only one? Let’s compare them in this SPICEography Showdown.

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The Spice Lab - Peppercorn Medley
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The Spice Lab's peppercorn medley contains plenty of peppercorn types plus allspice, which gives it extra sweetness.

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02/18/2024 06:57 pm GMT

Table of Contents

How does peppercorn medley differ from black pepper?

A peppercorn medley and black pepper will have different ingredients. Peppercorn medleys differ from maker to maker, but all will contain a mix of peppercorns — by definition, a medley of peppercorns.

Not only do the ingredients differ, but the proportion of each ingredient can also differ. Typically, they will include at least three kinds of whole peppercorns. Black, pink, and green peppercorns provide the most color and contrast, so those three tend to appear in most blends. Some manufacturers will also include white peppercorns.

Pink peppercorns are not in the pepper family, but they are sometimes not the only non-pepper spice in a pepper medley as allspice — sometimes called Jamaican pepper — may be included. Coriander seed also appears in some blends. Black pepper consists of ground black peppercorns only.

–> Learn More: Allspice Vs. Black Pepper

Peppercorn medleys differ from black pepper in flavor. Each of the different ingredients in a peppercorn medley has its own taste and fragrance, which gives a peppercorn medley a complex flavor profile. It can have the heat and citrus notes from black pepper combined with the fruitiness of pink peppercorns and green peppercorns’ fresh, grassy flavor. It will get that spice’s mix of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg notes if it contains allspice.

Black pepper is pre-ground and does not have the brightness of fresh ground black pepper but has a little heat along with some citrus and pine notes.

Peppercorn medleys have a different appearance from black pepper. Peppercorn medleys have multiple colors because of the other whole peppercorns they contain. Peppercorn medleys are also often packaged in clear containers with a built-in grinder that show off the colors. When ground, peppercorns will have little pieces of green and pink peppercorns combined with black granules from outside the black peppercorns and white ones from the interiors.

Black pepper will be black and white because it will contain only the exterior and interior fragments of the black peppercorns.

Can you use peppercorn medley as a substitute for black pepper?

Peppercorn medleys make effective substitutes for black pepper in most applications. Many cooks would consider a medley — usually fresh ground — an upgrade even if some of the ingredients are not in the pepper family. That said, if your recipe wants the muted flavor of a pre-ground black pepper, a peppercorn medley might be so flavorful that it dominates the dish.

Black pepper can work as a substitute for a peppercorn medley, but it won’t be ideal. It will lack the mix of flavors and the colors that make peppercorn medleys appealing. It will, however, provide the taste of black pepper, which is one of the more noticeable elements in a peppercorn medley.

When should you use a peppercorn medley? And when should you use black pepper?

Use peppercorn medleys for lightly flavored dishes that can show off the different spices’ flavors. Peppercorn medleys are particularly enjoyable on cod and other mild fish. Use black pepper as an all-purpose table condiment or as one component in a complex dry rub or another kind of seasoning blend.