Black pepper is native to Kerala in Southwestern India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s P. nigrum crop as of 2013.
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity both for its flavour and as a traditional medicine. Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice, and is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world. Its spiciness is due to the chemical piperine, not to be confused with the capsaicin characteristic of chili peppers. It is ubiquitous in the modern world as a seasoning and is often paired with salt.
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. The heat ruptures cell walls in the pepper, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The drupes dry in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper skin around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dry, the spice is called black peppercorn.