Black pepper comes from the tropical peppercorn tree (piper nigrum), native to India. The trees produce berries in long clusters, which are dried to become peppercorns. They are harvested during different stages of maturity to obtain green, black, or red peppercorns.

Green peppercorns are black peppercorns which have not yet ripened. They are usually preserved in brine since they have a short useful life otherwise. The green variety have a fresher taste than black peppercorns, in addition to a smoother texture and a less spicy flavor. Green peppercorns are widely used in French, Thai, and western European cuisines, primarily in sauces, soups, cheeses, steaks, salad dressings, potato salads, and pastas.

The most common peppercorn is the black variety, which are harvested before they turn red and set in the sun to dry, at which point they shrivel and turn black. Black peppercorns contain an essential oil called piperine which is responsible for their strong, spicy flavor. Black pepper is a versatile spice that is used in a huge variety of savory recipes, and can also be added to fruits, jellies, and jams. Try adding black pepper to a fruit salad with a little honey. When cooking with pepper, it should be added at the end of the cook time since the essential oils can evaporate when cooked too long.

White peppercorns are derived by soaking black peppercorns in salt water to remove the outer skin. White pepper has a less pungent taste than black and is primarily used in sauces, mashed potatoes, and other dishes where the color of black pepper is deemed undesirable.   

There are also red peppercorns which are fully matured peppercorns. These are quite rare, and are not to be confused with pink or rose peppercorns (which are not actual peppercorns). Red peppercorns can be used fresh but will spoil quickly so they are commonly preserved in brines, freeze-dried, or air dried. They have a slightly pungent flavor and hot taste.

It is better to purchase whole peppercorns and grind them yourself than to buy ground pepper; the latter loses its flavor much more quickly. Metal or wooden handheld grinders
are better than plastic, since plastic will eventually wear and leave plastic pieces in your pepper. Some people believe that electric grinders leave a metallic taste in spices. Many chefs prefer a mortar and pestle for grinding purposes, or simply the blade of a knife for crushing spices.   

Whole dried peppercorns can be stored in an airtight container for up to one year. Ground pepper will only keep for 3 months, and fresh green peppercorns preserved in brine should be refrigerated. Essential oil will evaporate from pepper if exposed to the air for an extended period of time.

Health Benefits
•  The essential oil piperine helps with digestion and absorption of selenium, B-complex                   vitamins, and beta-carotene.
•  Black pepper is a good source of potassium, calcium zinc, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
•  Pepper is rich in antioxidants, including vitamins A and C.  
•  Pepper helps to remove toxins from our bodies and to protect us from certain cancers and     diseases.

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