Black pepper, Piper nigrum (pepper family Piperaceae) has been an important commodity for millennia. We get it as a dark powder, or if you have a pepper grinder, little round pepper corns.
Because those little pepper corns are small and travel well, they were traded all across the Old World for many centuries. The plant is a vine that will climb to tall trees. The pepper corns are the dried fruits. They develop as long clusters. Black pepper is created by drying the unripe fruits in the sun. The outside covering, initially green, wrinkles, shrinks, and turns black in the sun. White pepper is made by removing the red skins from ripe pepper corns, then bleached and dried in the sun. Green pepper is produced by pickling or freeze-drying fresh green fruits.
|Flowers on black pepper vine|
|pepper as a ground cover, Singapore|
Black pepper is not at all related to chili peppers, genus Capsicum in the tomato family, Solanaceae. Chilis (spell it chile and chilli if you prefer) are native to Central and South America, where they have been grown for at least 5,000 years. The similar name, pepper, is because Columbus and explorers after him came to the Americas seeking pepper, and chilis were what the Native Americans offered when they understood what the Europeans were looking for. And chilis were a hit, so they were carried all over the world almost immediately. One advantage chilis have over black pepper is that they grow as an annual in cold climates, so pretty much everyone in the world can grow them. Black pepper is a frost-intolerant perennial vine that is confined to the tropics.
|chili peppers, no relation to black pepper|
--except both have a sharp taste
Comments and corrections welcome.
Billing, J. and P. W Sherman. Antimicrobial functions of spices: Why some like it hot. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 78 (1):3-49 (1998).
Gorgani, L. M. Mohammadi, G. D. Najafpour and M. Nikzad. Piperine—The bioactive compound of black pepper: From isolation to medicinal formulations. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety 16 (1): 124-140 (2016) link Accessed 12/7/19
Srinivasan K., Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: a review of diverse physiological effects. Critical Review of Food Science and Nutrition. 47(8):735-48. (2007) link Accessed 12/7/19.
Van Wyk, B-E. 2005. Food Plants of the World. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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