White peppercorns do not get used a lot in American cooking except as a seasoning for light-colored dishes like macaroni salad where you may not want black specks from black peppercorns. White peppercorns are also used in a lot of French dishes for their ability to disappear in creamy sauces, but they are also a good option when you need a milder pepper flavor than you would get from black peppercorns. If you cannot find white peppercorns in your local grocery store and don’t want to wait for them to be shipped to you, try one of the following white peppercorns substitutes.
Your best bet: Black peppercorns
Black peppercorns come from the same Piper nigrum plant as white peppercorns. They are actually the same fruit at a different stage of ripeness and that has been processed differently. Black peppercorns retain their skins as they are dried and the drying process takes place before they reach maturity. White peppercorns are allowed to ripen before being dried. Black peppercorns have a number of compounds not found in white peppercorns, with the result that they have a more pungent aroma and more heat.
Obviously, you will not be getting the benefit of a spice that does not stand out in a pale dish. If you find the appearance of black pepper unappealing, you may want to reserve it for darker dishes.
Because of the difference in heat and pungency, you may want to start with about half the amount of black pepper that your recipe requires for white pepper. You can always add more to taste, if necessary.
A decent second choice: Green peppercorns
Like both black and white peppercorns, green peppercorns come from the Piper nigrum plant; they are picked a long time before they mature. Green peppercorns are usually pickled, but it is possible to find them dried so that they can be ground and used like white peppercorns. The pickled version may also work in some of the dishes that require white peppercorns. While pickled or dried green peppercorns will stand out more than white peppercorns, they are not quite as visible as black peppercorns would be. You can use them as a white peppercorn substitute in dishes where black peppercorns would make for an unattractive presentation.
Because green peppercorns have an even milder flavor than white peppercorns, you will need to use more of them when using them as a substitute. Start out with about 1 1/2 times the amount that your recipe specifies for white peppercorns.
In a pinch: Pink peppercorns
Pink peppercorns are actually the fruit of a South American tree, unlike true peppercorns that come from South East Asia. They have a similar appearance to Piper nigrum berries, which are the true peppercorns. In addition to the fact that they look like true peppercorns, they also have a light taste that is similar to that of peppercorns. They make a great substitute for white peppercorns because of their mild peppery taste and the fact that their light color makes them a better fit for paler dishes.
Use pink peppercorns as a 1:1 substitute for white peppercorns.
Ground ginger has a mild spiciness along with a pale color that is similar to that of ground white peppercorns. It does not have as strong a flavor as that of fresh ginger and should work well in many applications that require white peppercorns, especially Thai dishes.
Ground mustard has a sharp flavor and a mild heat along with a pale yellow color. Both the color and the gentle heat make it an effective alternative to white pepper in most applications.