Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. When dried, the fruit is known as a peppercorn. When fresh and fully mature, it is approximately 5 millimeters (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed. Peppercorns, and the ground pepper derived from them, may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit) and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds).
Black pepper is native to south India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. Currently, Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s Piper nigrum crop as of 2013.
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity for both its flavour and as a traditional medicine. Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. It is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine, not to be confused with the capsaicin characteristic of chili peppers. Black pepper is ubiquitous in the modern world as a seasoning and is often paired with salt.
As of 2013, Vietnam was the world’s largest producer and exporter of black peppercorns, producing 163,000 tonnes or 34% of the world total of 473,000 tonnes (table). Other major producers include Indonesia (19%), India (11%) and Brazil (9%) (table). Global pepper production may vary annually according to crop management, disease and weather. Vietnam dominates the export market, using almost none of its production domestically.
Peppercorns are among the most widely traded spice in the world, accounting for 20 percent of all spice imports.
Like many eastern spices, pepper was historically both a seasoning and a folk medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used. Black pepper (or perhaps long pepper) was believed to cure several illnesses, such as constipation, insomnia, oral abscesses, sunburn and toothaches, among others. Various sources from the 5th century onward recommended pepper to treat eye problems, often by applying salves or poultices made with pepper directly to the eye. There is no current medical evidence that any of these.
Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from piperine derived both from the outer fruit and the seed. Black pepper contains between 4.6% and 9.7% piperine by mass, and white pepper slightly more than that. Refined piperine, by weight, is about one percent as hot as the capsaicin found in chili peppers. The outer fruit layer, left on black pepper, also contains aroma-contributing terpenes, including germacrene (11%), limonene (10%), pinene (10%), alpha-phellandrene (9%), and beta-caryophyllene (7%), which give citrusy, woody, and floral notes. These scents are mostly missing in white pepper, which is stripped of the fruit layer. White pepper can gain different odor’s (including musty notes) from its longer fermentation stage. The aroma of pepper is attributed to rotundone.