5 Best Peppercorn Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Understanding how to use peppercorn substitutes will make you a flavor master in the kitchen, even when your spice rack is empty.

Peppercorns are dried berries that come from the Piper nigrum plant. Peppercorns are often found in white, black, and green colors. Black peppercorns are unripe young berries and are the most popular variety of table spices and in cooking. White peppercorns are allowed to ripen a bit further and have a mellowed pepper flavor. Green peppercorns are the most mature berries, with a ripened citrus flavor. Recipes will specify which kind to use. [1]

Peppercorn Substitutes

If you find yourself out of peppercorns, there are a few alternatives such as ground pepper, pink peppercorns, papaya seeds, capers, and coriander seeds which you can try that will deliver that signature, pungent and peppery kick. Some will have more heat, while others will be more acidic, but each substitute can provide the flavorful bite you’re seeking.

Papaya seeds on a white background

Papaya seeds contain a variety of essential micronutrients. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ground Pepper

This may seem like an obvious one, but if you run out of whole peppercorns, ground pepper can be substituted in its place. Ground pepper, depending on its age and freshness, can be much less powerful than whole peppercorns. Therefore, taste the dish as you add pepper; you will probably need to use a little more ground pepper than the recipe asks for.

Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns are not actually related to the Piper nigrum plant. Instead, it is the dried fruit of the Peruvian pepper tree, native to South America. Even though these little red berries come from another plant, they still taste very much like black peppercorn, albeit milder, and can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio. Many people even prefer the complex fruitiness of pink peppercorn to the raw bite of black peppercorn. [2]

Papaya Seeds

For people who have an actual pepper allergy, papaya seeds are an excellent alternative. The seeds that come from this sweet tropical fruit have a strong peppery flavor. Toast the seeds and then grind them to substitute for black peppercorn. [3]


These little dried green berries are peppery and full of citrus brightness. They often come packed in oil or brine. If your capers have been packed in brine with salt, be sure to rinse them off before drying and using in place of peppercorns. This may not be suitable for all recipes, as capers are much more tart and lemony than peppercorns, but will work especially well in baked dishes and sauces that call for whole peppercorns. [4]

Coriander Seeds

Coriander, otherwise known as cilantro, is only slightly peppery but will work as a substitute in a pinch. Grind the seeds fresh, as you would with peppercorns. Coriander will make your dish slightly sweeter and a bit less spicy.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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