The dried, unripe berries of a perennial climbing vine native to South India but now cultivated throughout the tropical zone.
Pepper is certainly the most popular spice in terms of production volume and has been highly prized since ancient times. So much so that in medieval times peppercorns were valued individually as currency, giving rise to the expression used to describe the lowest rent payable as a 'peppercorn rent'.
Pepper has a sharp, hot aromatic flavour, which was ideal in times gone by to hide the off flavours of old food.
It is generally used by grinding in a hand grinder and enhances savoury dishes.
Whole black peppercorns are used in Pickling Spice (see separate entry).