It is the world’s most traded spice, and is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world.
In early historic times pepper was widely cultivated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, where it became highly regarded as a condiment.
Pepper became an important article of overland trade between India and Europe and often served as a medium of exchange; tributes were levied in pepper in ancient Greece and Rome.
In the Middle Ages the Venetians and the Genoese became the main distributors in Europe, and their virtual monopoly of the trade helped instigate the search for an eastern sea route.
Pepper is now grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Kampuchea as well as the West coast of India, known as Malabar, where it originated.
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 4 m (13 ft) in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground.
The leaves are alternate, entire, 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) long and 3 to 6 cm (1.2 to 2.4 in) across.
The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.1 in) long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 7 to 15 cm (2.8 to 5.9 in) as the fruit matures.
The fruits, which are sometimes called peppercorns, are drupes about 5 mm (0.2 inch) in diameter. They become yellowish red at maturity and bear a single seed. Their odour is penetrating and aromatic; the taste is hot, biting, and very pungent.
The collected fruits are immersed in boiling water for about 10 minutes, which causes them to turn dark brown or black in an hour. Then they are spread out to dry in the sun for three or four days. The whole peppercorns, when ground, yield black pepper.
Black Pepper has a sharp, pungent aroma and flavor. A pinch of black pepper is added to almost every type of recipe imaginable.
Black pepper is an excellent source of manganese and vitamin K, a very good source of copper and dietary fiber, and a good source of iron, chromium and calcium.
Black pepper helps improve your stomach’s ability to digest foods and promotes intestinal health. Because black pepper is a carminative, it discourages intestinal gas from forming, and as a bonus, the outer layer of the peppercorn aids in the break-down of fat cells.
Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper. The United States is the largest importer of pepper.
The “word pepper” originated from the Sanskrit word pippali, meaning berry.
In the 16th century, people began using pepper to also mean the unrelated New World chili pepper. People have also used pepper in a figurative sense to mean “spirit” or “energy” at least as far back as the 1840s. In the early 20th century, this shortened to “pep”.
Pepper contains an alkaloid of pyridine called piperine. Piperine acts as an irritant if it gets into the nose. It stimulates (or irritates) the nerve endings inside the mucous membrane. This stimulation will cause you to sneeze
Pepper loses flavor and aroma through evaporation, so airtight storage helps preserve its spiciness longer. Pepper can also lose flavor when exposed to light, which can transform piperine into nearly tasteless isochavicine.