Pepper is a spice found in most cultures. It is used in cooking and sometimes for medicinal purposes. It was a major commodity that was traded in early history. There are several types of pepper, and the origin of pepper and how it is grown is the backbone of how the industry operates today.


Pepper has been used as a spice since the prehistoric period. The plant is from the country of India. It spread to Southeast Asia. It has been used in Indian cooking since 2000 B.C. Peppercorns were a traded commodity that were used as money, and were called "black gold." Black pepper found in Europe, the Middle East and Africa came from India's Malabar region. This is the western coast of South India. During the sixteenth century, pepper was grown in Java, Sumatra and Madagascar. In the Middle Ages, pepper was a spice primarily used by the rich. In the twentieth century, pepper was grown on plantations in Vietnam, China and Thailand. India produces about 50 percent of the world's pepper. In the early days, Arab traders had a monopoly on the pepper trade. In Central Europe, the water pepper was used as a substitute for real pepper in bad economic times.


Black pepper is the most used spice in the world. It is used quite extensively in Thai cooking, in stews and other dishes. In Vietnam, it is used in soups and as a table condiment. In Europe, fresh strawberries with green pepper is very a common dish. A pinch of mild pepper on fruits tastes good and recently chocolate with a pinch of pepper has appeared in the European market. Peppered sweetmeats were common in ancient Greece and Rome. It is also used in spice mixtures like curry and several Arab spice mixtures. White pepper is used in Creole cooking, and can be cooked a long time without losing flavor. It is used in spicy meat stews, sauces, steaks and vegetables. In the United States and Europe, the flavor of pepper and lemon juice are popular on poultry and fish. It is best ground directly onto food or added towards the end of cooking. At times, it is used to treat fever and chills.


Black pepper is the fruit of the pepper plant harvested unripe but not far from ripening--called the peppercorn. The fruit around the seed shrinks and darkens as it's dried, forming black pepper. A form of black pepper is produced in all countries that grown it. Black pepper that is produced only in India is known as Telicherry pepper. Fully ripened pepper fruits are used to make white pepper (it is the seed with the fruit removed). White pepper is more expensive than black due to the cost of processing. Green pepper is harvested pepper that is not ripened yet. It is processed to avoid fermentation of any kind. It has a fresh herbal flavor. Green pepper is used in Western cooking. It is mixed in mustard, pepper steak and sauces. White pepper is often used in cream-based sauces.


Pepper gets its spicy flavor from the piperine compound, found in the outer fruit and the seed. The strongest flavor is in the white pepper, and weakest is in the green variety. It contain about 3 percent essential oils. In trade, pepper is identified by the growing region, and the most important Indian grade is Malabar, which is regular black pepper with a green hue. The other is Tellicherry, which is a type of black pepper that is more flavorful than other types.


Pepper grows on climbing vines with very large leaves. The plant can reach a height of 35 feet or more. The plant has broad green leaves and white flowers that grow on spikes. Flowers eventually produce small green berries that look like grapes. When they ripen, they turn yellowish-red in color. The pepper plant needs a rainy, humid environment with shade to grow well. Often new plants are grown from cuttings that are put near trees or poles. It takes 2 to 5 years for the new plant to produce any berries. The different types of pepper come from same plant, but are harvested at different times. Black peppercorns are picked when they start to turn yellow and are dried in the sun. Sometimes they are put in boiling water for 10 minutes to start fermentation (that is why they turn black).