I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of white pepper substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
White peppercorns are the best substitutes for ground white pepper (and vice versa). If you don’t mind adding flecks of color to your sauce, try other pepper varieties like the classic black pepper or the fruity pink pepper. In a pinch? Try mustard or ginger powder.
I made different batches of bechamel sauce to put several white pepper substitutes to the test.
White pepper comes from the ripened fruits of the piper nigerium plant. They’re soaked and fermented before removing their outer layers, leaving only the white seeds.
They have a simpler flavor profile than black pepper – an earthy taste with milder heat. They’re a staple in Asian cuisine. But they’re also popular in the West because they can blend seamlessly into light sauces, without altering their creamy color.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|White peppercorns||replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Other kinds of peppercorns||replace in a 1:1 ratio (use 1/2 for Sichuan, adjust to taste)||9/10|
|Ground mustard||replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Ground ginger||replace with 1/2 the amount, adjust to taste||7/10|
|Cayenne pepper/red pepper flakes||replace with 1/2 the amount, adjust to taste||8/10|
|Paprika||replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
These are no-brainer substitutes, but I listed them just in case! After all, having white peppercorns on hand is better than the ground version anyway.
Like most spices, the peppercorns begin to lose their flavor the moment they’re ground. So grinding them fresh is the way to go.
And don’t worry, you don’t need to invest in a high-end grinder. You can use a trusty mortar and pestle or follow this two-pan trick from Chowhound (video below).
How to substitute: replace ground white pepper in a 1:1 ratio with freshly ground white peppercorns.
Other kinds of pepper
As you’ve probably guessed, the world of pepper has a lot to offer. You can consider using the following varieties in place of whole or ground white pepper.
Just a heads up, though – these will add prominent flecks of color to your dish, but it won’t be too drastic.
- Black pepper – this is the most common variety of pepper, and you probably already have it in your spice rack. It has a sharper, more intense flavor than white pepper.
- Pink peppercorns – pink peppercorns deliver a heat reminiscent of chilis but with a sweeter, fruitier flavor. They also have delicate floral notes, making them an excellent addition to curry sauces.
- Green peppercorns – For those who prefer a milder pepper, green peppercorns are a perfect choice. They have a fruity, floral profile, and a subtle peppery hint.
- Sichuan peppercorns – For an authentic Asian twist, try Sichuan peppercorns. They offer a unique numbing sensation when you eat them! Start with half the amount required and add more if needed.
And let’s not forget the “rainbow mix” – a blend of various peppercorns that have a bit of everything.
How to substitute: replace ground white pepper in a 1:1 ratio with black, pink, or green peppercorns. For Sichuan peppers, use ½ the amount and adjust as needed.
Ground mustard is an excellent option if you are looking for a non-pepper substitute. While its yellow color might seem bright, it blends remarkably well into dishes, leaving little trace of its original color.
But what really makes ground mustard a worthy substitute is the flavor complexity – it will introduce an earthy heat to your dishes and a subtle tang. The mild spice was delicious with my bechamel and I can’t wait to use it in cheese-based dishes like mac and cheese!
A tip worth remembering is that the pungency of ground mustard can decrease over time, so for the best flavor, make sure you’re using a fresh pack.
How to substitute: replace white pepper in a 1:1 ratio with ground mustard.
Ground ginger is not an exact flavor match for white pepper, but it’s a lifesaver in a pinch. It has a mildly spicy kick with a refreshing, zesty undertone and a light color profile.
Because the flavor is quite different to white pepper, I would start by adding a small amount and building up the flavor from there. Ginger can quickly become overwhelming if you’re not careful.
I used half the amount in my béchamel sauce and found it added a pleasant background warmth.
How to substitute: replace white pepper with 1/2 the amount of ground ginger.
Cayenne powder/red pepper flakes
Craving something with more heat? Why not go all out with a dash of cayenne powder or red pepper flakes?
These spices aren’t just about adding heat – they’ll also add a piquant flavor that can intensify the overall taste of your dish. Using cayenne won’t alter your dish’s final color too much. But red pepper flakes will noticeable flecks, especially with a smooth, creamy sauce like bechamel.
Both of these spices are more intense than white pepper, so I recommend starting with half the quantity and adjusting to your preference.
How to substitute: replace white pepper with ½ the amount of cayenne or red pepper flakes, adjust to taste.
Paprika is a more subtle alternative for those seeking the earthy undertones of white pepper without the heat. This versatile spice has a bright red color, but a pinch won’t dramatically alter your dish’s final look.
There are three different varieties, all with pretty self explanatory names:
- Sweet paprika
- Smoked paprika
- Hot paprika (although it’s not very hot compared to other chili powders).
How to substitute: replace white pepper in a 1:1 ratio with your chosen type of paprika.
The suggestions above are my top picks for white pepper substitutes, but here are some other options you can try if you have them on hand:
- Cumin: Cumin has warm, earthy notes that’ll deepen your dish’s flavor profile without overpowering it. And its yellowish-brown won’t alter your dish’s appearance too much, especially if you’re making a cream-based sauce.
- Turmeric: Like cumin and paprika, this spice will bring an earthy, warm flavor to your dish. It’s got a very bold yellow color though.
- Papaya seeds: These have a robust and peppery flavor, almost like black pepper. The only downside with this alternative? You’ll need to source them straight from fresh, ripe papaya.
- Green chilis: Chilis are another option for adding a quick touch of heat to your dishes, the green ones have a more bitter undertone and a fresher flavor compared to red chilis (which are spicier).
Substitutes to avoid
I came across loads of substitute suggestions while I was researching, but not all of them were good suggestions.
Grains of paradise may look like black peppercorns, but they also have notes of coriander, citrus, and nutmeg that I felt strayed too far from white pepper’s simpler taste. Similarly, spice blends like Old Bay, and Cajun seasoning were also mentioned because they typically contain some form of pepper. But again I thought the flavor of these was too complex and strong to replace white pepper.
White Pepper Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 1 tsp white peppercorns, ground
- 1 tsp other kinds of peppercorns, for Sichuan peppers, start with 1/2 the amount
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper/red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp paprika
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen white pepper substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.