Peppercorn: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on peppercorn

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.

The pepper plant vine grows up to 4 meters (13 ft) in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire, 5 to 10 cm long and 3 to 6 cm across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 4 to 8 cm long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 7 to 15 cm as the fruit matures.

The fruit of the black pepper is called a drupe and when dried it is a peppercorn. The fruit, is approximately 5 millimeters (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature, 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 (unripe fruit seeds).

common names & nomenclature
The word pepper has its roots in the Dravidian word for long pepper, pippali. Today's pepper derives from the Old English pipor.

Also known as:
black pepper, green pepper, white pepper, peppercorn

Peppercorn, oldest known and most widely used spice in the world
Peppercorn: Where in the World
habitat and range for peppercorn

Piper nigrum is native to south India, parts of Asia, and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions.

Peppercorn: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting peppercorn

Grows in humid, mountainous, tropical regions in partial shade, can also be grown as a houseplant in temperate regions.

Grows best in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, prefers moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter.

Plant peppercorn seeds indoors 1/2" deep. For proper germination keep seeds damp and remain at 50% humidity or higher and 75 to 85°F. After seeds have germinated, keep soil moist and from drying out. Transplant in larger pots as seedling grows.

Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. Heating in hot water ruptures cell walls in the pepper, and speeds the work of browning enzymes during drying. The drupes are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.

White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker-colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried.

Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe drupes. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green color, such as treatment with sulfur dioxide, canning or freeze-drying.

Store dried peppercorns in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.