Indian Institute of Spices Research

Piper nigrum Linn.
Family : Piperaceae
Other names: Pepper; white pepper; green peppercorns
Black pepper (Piper nigrum), the king of spices, is one of the oldest and the most popular spice in the world. It is a perennial, climbing vine indigenous to the Malabar Coast of India. The hotly pungent spice made from its berries is one of the earliest spices known and is probably the most widely used spice in the world today. It was mentioned as far back as 1000 BC in ancient Sanskrit literature. In early historic times black pepper was widely cultivated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, where it became an important article of overland trade between India and Europe. It became a medium of exchange, and tributes were levied in black pepper in ancient Greece and Rome. In the Middle Ages the Venetian and the Genoese became the main distributors, their virtual monopoly of the trade helping to instigate the search for an eastern sea route. The name pepper comes from the Sanskrit word pippali meaning berry.
Apart from India, black pepper is widely cultivated throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, tropica Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and China also. It is a branching vine with a smooth, woody, articulate stem swollen at the joints. A woody climber, it may reach heights of 10m by means of its aerial roots. Its broad, shiny green, pointed , petiolate leaves are alternately arranged. The sessile, white, small flowers are borne in pendulous, dense, slender spikes of about 50 blossoms each. The berry-like fruits, or peppercorns, are round, about 0.5 - 1.0 cm in diameter and contain a single seed. They become yellowish red at maturity and bear a single seed. The odour is penetrating and aromatic; the taste is hot, biting and very pungent.
The plant requires a long rainy season, fairly high temperatures, and partial shade for the best growth. Propagation is usually by stem cuttings. The cuttings are set out near a tree or a pole that will serve as a support. Black pepper plants are sometimes interspersed in tea or coffee plantations. They begin bearing in 2 to 5 years and may produce for as long as 40 years. The berries are picked when they begin to turn red. The collected berries are scalded with boiling water for about 10 minutes, which causes them to turn dark brown or black in an hour. Then they are spread out to dry in the sun for three or four days. The whole peppercorns, when ground, yield black pepper.
White pepper is obtained by removing the outer part of the pericarp of the ripened berries. The outer coating is softened either by keeping the berries in moist heaps fir 2 or 3 days or by keeping them in sacks submerged in running water for 7 to 15 days, depending on the region. The softened outer coating is then removed by washing and rubbing or by trampling, and the berries are spread in the sun to dry. Whole white pepper can also be prepared by grinding off the outer coating mechanically. The flavour is less pungent than that of black pepper. Green pepper are immature berries freeze dried or mechanically air dried. They are available pickled in brine or vinegar.
Black and white pepper have two main components, the volatile oil and the pungent components, commonly known as piperine. Black pepper contains about 0.6 - 2.6 % essential oil that has the aromatic flavour of black pepper but not the pungency. The level varies depending on the source, maturity and variety. Of the 100 different components in the essential oil, the main ones are a-pinene, b-pinene, 1-a-phellandrene, b-caryophyllene, limonene and sabine-delta-3-carene. The main pungency principle is piperine,the trans, trans form of 1-piperoylpiperidine. Other minor pungent alkaloids are piperidine, piperettine, piperyline, piperanine and piperolein A and B.
Aroma and flavour
Black pepper is used in almost all applications where spice is used, with exception of baked goods. It is used universally in sauces, gravies, processed meats, poultry, snack foods etc. Both black and white pepper are used in cuisine worldwide, at all stages of the cooking process and as a table condiment. White pepper has a distinguishably different flavour but is utilized to a lesser extent.
Culinary use
It is used in processed meats and in applications where dark specking is not desired. Black pepper is added to fruit cakes and gingerbread and is also used as a light seasoning on fresh fruit. Black pepper oleoresin is also used for similar purposes.
Medicinal and other use
Black pepper has long been recognized as a stimulant to appetite as well as an aid in the relief of nausea. In India it is being used since time immemorial as a medicine for a number of health problems.