Black pepper comes from the berries of the pepper plant. Black pepper, green pepper and white peppercorns are actually the same fruit (Piper nigrum); the difference in their color is a reflection of varying stages of development and processing methods.
Black peppercorns are made by picking the pepper berries when they are half ripe and just about to turn red. Then, they are left to dry which causes them to shrivel and become dark in color.
Black pepper is the most pungent and flavorful of all types of peppers and it is available as whole or cracked peppercorns or ground into powder.
Native to India, pepper has played a very important role throughout history and has been a prized spice since ancient times. Since ancient Greece, pepper has held such high prestige that it was not only used as a seasoning but as a currency and a sacred offering. Pepper was used to both honor the gods and to pay taxes and ransoms. During the fall of ancient Rome, the invading barbarians were even honored by being given black pepper.
Pepper became an important spice that catalyzed much of the spice trade. This not only led to exploration of many undiscovered lands, but also to the development of major merchant cities in Europe and the Middle East.
Today, the major commercial producers of pepper are India and Indonesia.
How to select and store
To ensure best flavor, buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself in a mill just before adding to a recipe. In addition to superior flavor, buying whole peppercorns will help to ensure that you are purchasing unadulterated pepper since ground pepper is often mixed with other spices.
Black pepper should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Whole peppercorns will keep almost indefinitely, while ground pepper will stay fresh for about three months.