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Peppercorn, Black Pepper

Botanical Name: Piper nigrum
Origin: India

Peppercorn, Black Pepper

A member of the Piperaceace family alongside long pepper (Piper longum), and kava kava (Piper methysticum), black pepper is native to southern India and Sri Lanka and widely cultivated in the tropics. The pepper plant is a tropical perennial vine requiring a trellis or some other support such as a tree to grow along. It has aromatic, green, ovate leaves that give off a strong fragrance and greenish yellow flower spikes.

Black pepper is the most traded cultivated spice and is propagated by cuttings that are grown by the base of trees. They bear fruit three to four years after planting and cease around the fifteenth year. The black peppercorns and ground pepper of commerce are actually immature fruits that are collected as soon as they turn red and dried in the sun. The peppercorns turn black after three days of drying, and when ground, produce black pepper powder. When the fruits are left to ripen and the red outer covering is removed, then white pepper is obtained.

Black pepper has been grown in Southern India for over two thousand years. Next to salt, pepper is the most popular spice being used continually for thousands of years, and in fact, used in Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE. Alexander the Great fought his way through central Asia making way for new trade routes which led to the eventual availability of black pepper in the West. It became increasingly popular and was highly traded by the Arabic spice merchants. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), the Roman naturalist, wrote in his book Natural History: