Pepper vs Black Peppercorn: What Is The Difference?

By Paul Smart •  Updated: 10/15/21 •  6 min read

Pepper vs Black Peppercorn: What Is The Difference? Adding a little spice to your favourite dish is a really common thing to do. One of the most popular spices is pepper or peppercorns, but the term pepper refers to a few different things so what are these things, and is there a difference between Pepper and Peppercorns?

The term Black Peppercorns refers to the seed of the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum) which is ground to produce the spice that is commonly referred to as pepper. However, the term pepper is also used to describe generally describe the fruit of the plants that fall into the capsicum genus in countries like the United States. These types of pepper are split into groups that include Sweet Peppers, Bell Peppers, and Hot Peppers which also have many subcategories.

However, in the countries such as Australia, the term Capsicum is used to describe Sweet Peppers and the term Pepper within this context is only used to describe fruits that are hot and sometimes called chilli peppers. As a result of this, the word pepper in many countries implies that the substance is hot.

Are There Different Types Of Peppers (The Spice)

There are several different types of peppers which include Black and White pepper which is the most common. In addition to this red, and green pepper are also produced as well as Sichuan pepper which is far less common in western countries.

Black and White Pepper

Both Black and White pepper/peppercorns are produced from the fruit of the pepper plant which is essentially a stone fruit with the peppercorn being the stone. The main difference between black and white pepper is the way that the peppercorns are extracted from the plant.

Black peppercorns are produced from the unripened fruit of the pepper plant. The unripened fruit is usually cooked in hot water for a short period of time to clean the fruit. The fruit is then dried for several days which produces the familiar black wrinkled appearance as the skin of the fruit shrinks around the stone of the fruit. In some cases they are ground to produce black pepper powder or they are sold as whole peppercorns.

White pepper on the other hand is made up only of the seed of the ripe fruit of the pepper plant, with the flesh of the fruit being removed. To get rid of the excess flesh the fruit is soaked in water until the flesh falls off the seed of the plant. White peppercorns are then treated in much the same way as black peppercorns.

Red and Green Pepper

Red and Green Pepper are also made from the fruit of the Pepper plant however the entire fruit is preserved in either brine or vinegar. The main difference between the two types of peppers is that the green pepper is an unripened fruit whereas the red pepper is ripe fruit.

Sichuan Pepper

Sichuan Pepper is a common alternative to traditional black pepper that is commonly used in Chinese cooking. The spice is produced using a plant that is not closely related to the Pepper plant called the winged prickly ash. The plant is far more tolerant of cooler conditions than the Pepper Plant which is native to tropical areas, it tolerates down to zone 6.

The other key difference is the Sichuan pepper is not based on the seed of the plant, instead, the seeds are discarded and the husk of the fruit is used. Freshly picked fruit is sometimes used in cooking but the dried form of the spice is far more common.

Why Is Pepper Spicy?

Black pepper is spicy because it contains a chemical called piperine. The chemical is significantly milder than the chemical capsaicin which is responsible for the heat in hot chillies or peppers such as jalapenos.

The heat of the chillies is rated using the Scoville scale which was originally based on the volume of sugar water required to neutralize the heat of a chilli. While there has been no direct rating of the piperine in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) it has been estimated that the chemical is around 160 times less potent than Capsaicin.

It has been estimated that the pure black pepper, which contains 1 to 2% of piperine would register 5,000 to 10,000 SHU, which is similar to an average jalapeno which reads between 2,500 and 10,000 SHU. For the uninitiated, jalapeno peppers are considered relatively mild.

How Spicy Are Hot Chilli Peppers?

The spiciness of hot chilli peppers varieties enormously depending upon the specific variety, however, the plants can be generally be divided into 4 groups Jalapenos, Serrano, Bird’s Eye Chillies and Habanero. 

Jalapeños are the most common type of hot peppers eaten and are widely eaten in a pickled form in Mexican cuisine. They typically have a Scoville Heat Unit Rating of between 2,500 and 10,000.

Serrano peppers are hotter than Jalapeños, and are often used as substitutes when more heat is desired. The most common colour is green, but there are varieties that are Red, Brown, Orange or Yellow. They typically have a Scoville Heat Unit rating of between 10,000 and 25,000.

Bird’s Eye Chillies, which are often referred to as Thai Chillies, are typically Red, Green and Orange in colour.  They are generally among the smallest Chillies, but are quite spicy. They typically have a Scoville Heat Unit rating of between 50,000 and 100,000.

Habanero Peppers often have smaller fruit than either Jalapeños or Serrano Chillies, that is usually Orange or Red.  They are extremely hot, around 10 to 100 times hotter than Jalapenos, and generally should be treated with respect.  They typically have a Scoville Heat Unit rating of between 100,000 to 350,000.

However, there are also hot chilli peppers that go well beyond this level, such as the Caroline Reaper which has recorded results of over 2 million SHU.

What Are The Different Types Of Hot Peppers?

Why Are My Pepper Plants Not Growing Peppers?

Are Pepper Plants Perennial?

How Many Jalapenos Do The Best Pepper Varieties Produce?

Pepper vs Black Peppercorn: What Is The Difference?

Capsicum vs Bell Pepper: Are They The Same Thing?

Are Dried Peppers Hotter Than Fresh Ones?

Paul Smart