Recipes may call for black peppercorn but you may need a substitute if you don't have it on your spice rack. A recipe may call for the peppercorns to be added whole, while other recipes call for grinding them immediately before adding them. In some cases, you or someone you are cooking for has a food sensitivity to black pepper and you may want an alternative that isn't from the same plant. See the best substitutes and less perfect alternatives.
All you will need is ground black pepper. It is already made from black peppercorns.
For every 8 peppercorns called for, use 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper in its place. If the recipe calls for you to measure the peppercorns out with a measuring spoon, replace them measure for measure with ground black pepper. For example, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns would be replaced with 1 teaspoon of ground pepper.
Black peppercorns have more flavor and heat than ground pepper, so you may need to add more pepper to taste before serving your dish.
Why This Substitution Works
Black peppercorns come from the Piper nigrum plant. They are the dried berries of the plant. Because ground pepper is simply ground black peppercorns, there should be no change in flavor by using it as a substitute. However, prepared ground black pepper will have lost some of its potency and you may have to add more to taste to achieve the same spice level.
Black Peppercorn Relatives to Substitute
There are two other peppercorn varieties made from the berries of Piper nigrum—green peppercorns and white peppercorns. They are not as perfect for substitution. White peppercorns are the same as black peppercorns but have had their skin removed. This changes the flavor and they are less pungent. You can substitute them for black peppercorns or use ground white pepper as you would ground black pepper. However, you may find that you'll use a bit more to get the same effect.
Green peppercorns are unripe black peppercorns and they have a fresher flavor. If you have them dried from an Asian market, you might use them as a substitute, but they will add less heat and more of a vegetal flavor.
Unrelated Substitutions for Black Pepper
If a food sensitivity to black pepper is a problem, there are a couple of alternatives that are from unrelated plants. Pink peppercorns come from a different plant, the Brazilian pepper tree. They have a lighter flavor and so you may have to use more to get the peppery effect you want in a recipe.
Cayenne pepper can be substituted for black pepper if you intend to add heat. It is made from the fruit of the Capsicum annuum. It is a hot chile pepper and will add more heat per measure than black pepper. You should scale back the measurement accordingly and substitute 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper for 1 teaspoon black peppercorns. Cayenne powder is often made with other chiles and so you may need to experiment a bit to get the effect you want in your recipe.