What is Black Pepper?
Black peppercorns are the dried, unripe fruit of a climbing perennial vine, Piper nigrum, which grows only within twenty degrees of the equator in far east tropical forests. The vines are trained on support poles or trees and can grow to heights of up to 60 feet at maturity. Pepper has been cultivated for thousands of years and was one of the first items of commerce in the spice trade in the first century A.D. It was also an important economic commodity in the Middle Ages when landlords often collected rent in the form of peppercorns.
When harvested, the peppercorns are green berries attached in groups to elongated spikes of 50 berries or more. These berries are sun-dried for several days until they darken to brown or black and take on their characteristic shriveled appearance. A small percentage of the berries harvested at this stage may be cleaned and packed in a light brine for storage and later use as green peppercorns. The spice known as ground black pepper actually contains dark particles from the darkened outer hull as well as lighter colored particles from the center of the peppercorn or dried berry.
What is it used for today?
The peppercorn in various forms is undoubtedly the most widely used spice in the world. From meats to condiments to topical snack applications, black pepper is found in varying quantities in countless seasoning blends due to its pungency and flavor.