I’ve been eating black pepper ever since I can remember. I use it all the time but really had no idea where it came from, past the fact that it is ground from peppercorns. Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is produced from the still-green, unripe drupe of the pepper plant.
The drupe is the indehiscent (splitting, at maturity, along the built in line of weakness of the plant structure to release it’s contents) fruit in which the outer fleshy part surrounds a single shell. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water to clean and prepare for drying.
The cell walls ruptures, because of the heat, speeding the work of the browning enzymes. Drying is completed by the Sun or machines during the next several days. The pepper skin shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer, now known as a peppercorn. They can now be crushed to obtain pepper spirits (used medicinally or in beauty produces) or oil (for Indian massages).
Black pepper is native to present-day Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast of India and is also cultivated in other tropical regions. Pepper plants can’t grow if the soil is too dry or too wet. They do not do well over 3000 feet above sea level.
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 13 feet in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes. In 2019, Ethiopia was the world’s largest producer and exporter of black peppercorns, producing 34% of the world total. Other producers are Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, India, China, and Malaysia.