What’s the Best Pepper to Use in Pasta? Chefs Say It’s This One

Kampot peppercorns give an added layer of citrus and fruity flavors.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Photo by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Gabriel Mihalcea</a> on <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></p></div>
Photo by Gabriel Mihalcea on Unsplash

Peppercorns are the unheralded heroes of the pantry. Home cooks happy to obsess over the provenance of their salt or the scorching heat of their chile flakes usually pay scant attention to the pepper they grind from dawn to dusk. But there’s a wide world of peppercorns, and their range of flavors can have a powerful impact on scrambled eggs, spaghetti, and T-bone steaks. These unassuming dried Kampot peppercorns, available from the marvelous spice hideout SOS Chefs ($15 for 2 oz), don’t look like anything special, but they pack a bright spiciness that delivers an intensely fragrant punch to everything they touch.


• Grown on a coffee farm in central Vietnam, Burlap & Barrel’s Robusta black pepper ($9 for 1.8 oz) evokes java with a wallop of ginger.

• White Penja peppercorns ($16 for 2.5 oz) are a specialty at the New York spice company La Boîte. Sourced from Cameroon, on Africa’s west coast, they have a light fermented taste and are especially good on seafood and vegetables.

• Diaspora Co. founder Sana Javeri Kadri extols the virtues of her sun-dried Aranya black pepper ($12 for 2.3 oz) as “holding two generations of expertise, and a few thousand years of growing,” in the Kerala hills on India’s southwestern coast.


The charcoal coloring of a Kampot peppercorn resembles any other black pepper out there, but taste the Cambodian spice and you’ll know the difference. The fruitiness is profound: It makes you rethink pepper as a one-dimensional seasoning. They’ve become a favorite of New York chefs who want to amp up their pastas. At Altro Paradiso, Ignacio Mattos uses them on his rich cacio e pepe. Hillary Sterling, executive chef at the Italian restaurant Ci Siamo, relies on them for her bestselling rigatoni alla gricia with guanciale. Kampot peppercorns, she says, “add citrus and a little bit of pine and an entire other level of fruity flavors, the opposite of muted and mass-produced peppercorns.”

More stories like this are available on

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.