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Black pepper (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 fruit known as a peppercorn when dried is a small drupe approximately five millimetres in diameter dark red when fully mature containing a single seed. Peppercorns and the powdered pepper derived from grinding them may be described as black pepper white pepper green pepper and very often simply pepper.Dried ground pepper is one of the most common spices in European cuisine and its descendants having been known and prized since antiquity for both its flavor and its use as a medicine. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine. It may be found on nearly every dinner table in some parts of the world often alongside table salt.Pepper has been used as a spice in India since prehistoric times. Pepper is native to India and has been known to Indian cooking since at least 2000 BC. Peppercorns were a much prized trade good often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money. The term "peppercorn rent" still exists today.Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe berries of the pepper plant. The berries 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 berries 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 only with the skin of the pepper removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting where fully ripe peppers 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 berries. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a manner that retains the green colour such as treatment with sulfur dioxide or freeze-drying. Pickled peppercorns also green are unripe berries preserved in brine or vinegar. Fresh unpreserved green pepper berries largely unknown in the West are used in some Asian cuisines particularly Thai cuisine. Their flavor has been described as piquant and fresh with a bright aroma. They decay quickly if not dried or preserved.
Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from the piperine compound which is found both in the outer fruit and in the seed. Refined piperine milligram-for-milligram is about one percent as hot as the capsaicin in chilli peppers. The outer fruit layer left on black pepper also contains important odour-contributing terpenes including pinene sabinene limonene caryophyllene and linalool which give citrusy woody and floral notes. These scents are mostly missing in white pepper which is stripped of the fruit layer. White pepper can gain some different odours (including musty notes) from its longer fermentation stage.Pepper loses flavor and aroma through evaporation so airtight storage helps preserve pepper's original spiciness longer. Pepper can also lose flavor when exposed to light which can transform piperine into nearly tasteless isochavicine. Once ground pepper's aromatics can evaporate quickly; most culinary sources recommend grinding whole peppercorns immediately before use for this reason. Handheld pepper mills (or "pepper grinders") which mechanically grind or crush whole peppercorns are used for this sometimes instead of pepper shakers dispensers of pre-ground pepper.
In the Western Cultures white pepper is often used in dishes like light-coloured sauces or mashed potatoes where ground black pepper would visibly stand out. There is disagreement regarding which is generally spicier. They have differing flavor due to the presence of certain compounds in the outer fruit layer of the berry that are not found in the seed.
Black peppercorns figure in remedies in Ayurveda Siddha and Unani medicine in India. The 5th century Syriac Book of Medicines prescribes pepper (or perhaps long pepper) for such illnesses as constipation diarrhea earache gangrene heart disease hernia hoarseness indigestion insect bites insomnia joint pain liver problems lung disease oral abscesses sunburn tooth decay and toothaches. Various sources from the 5th century onward also recommend pepper to treat eye problems often by applying salves or poultices made with pepper directly to the eye. There is no current medical evidence that any of these treatments has any benefit. Pepper applied directly to the eye would be quite uncomfortable and possibly damaging.It has been shown that piperine can dramatically increase absorption of selenium vitamin B beta-carotene and curcumin as well as other nutrients.As a medicine pepper appears in the Buddhist Samaññaphala Sutta chapter five as one of the few medicines allowed to be carried by a monk.
Pepper contains small amounts of safrole a mildly carcinogenic compound. Also it is eliminated from the diet of patients having abdominal surgery and ulcers because of its irritating effect upon the intestines being replaced by what is referred to as a bland diet.