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Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Piper nigrum Piperaceae India

Pepper has earned its title as the King of all Spice. Pepper was mentioned in the Bible, and by Shakespeare. Pepper was worth more than its weight in gold and the quest for pepper led to the discovery of the New World. However, the history of black pepper began long before the Spice Trade.

Black pepper was used in ancient Egypt as part of the mummification process and was buried alongside Egyptian kings and queens. Black pepper has been enjoyed as a spice in India for more than 4,000 years and was common in both the Greek and Roman empires.

In ancient Greece, pepper was used as an offering to the Gods and even as currency. During Roman rule, the pepper trade began to flourish. By the 5th century, Alaric the Visigoth had conquered Rome and demanded almost one ton of pepper as ransom. The fall of Rome paved the way for the Persian and then the Arabs to take over the Spice Trade.

As the 11th century approached, the Italians had firm control of the pepper trade through the cities of Venice and Genoa. To break this Italian monopoly, Spain and Portugal began searching for a sea passage to India. This of course led to the discovery of North America and the chili pepper.

The Portuguese established a short lived monopoly on the pepper trade when they reached India in 1498 and established a blockade on the Arabian Sea. But it wasn't long before the Arabs and Italians were able to open up the trade routes once again and by the mid 17th century, the Portuguese had lost their monopoly to the Dutch and the English.

Historians write that pepper was used throughout the Middle Ages as a preservative and to improve the taste of spoiled meat, though it is likely that pepper was used mostly by the rich who could afford its exorbitant price.

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, as pepper prices decreased and supply increased, pepper became less of a luxury item and more of an everyday seasoning. Today pepper is still a highly valued commodity within the spice trade.

Pepper is actually the fruit of piper nigrum, a vine-like plant that belongs to the buttercup family and can reach heights of up to four meters. Unripe berries are picked when they are still green and then dried in the sun or by machine. Once dry the berry shrinks, hardens and darkens in color, developing the black, wrinkled outer layer characteristic of black peppercorns. If pepper berries are allowed to ripen before picking, they will lose most of their pungent and spicy flavor.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Pepper may be the king of the culinary spices, but it is also royally regarded for its reported medicinal properties. Pepper has been used as a medicine for thousands of years and is still be counted on today as a remedy for everything from digestive problems to low energy and toothaches. It is thought to slow the progress of prostate cancer.

Historically, black pepper has been used to:

  • Aid digestion
  • Reduce bacteria
  • Reduce fungus
  • As an anti-oxidant
  • Increase pirspiration
  • Increase wright loss
  • As a diuretic
  • Relieve nausea
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent or reduce osteoporosis
  • Stimulate the appetite
  • Relive cough and cold symptoms
  • As a source of vitamin C

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription or prescription natural or homeopathic substance or pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medication.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Freshly ground pepper will enhance almost any savory dish. It should be added immediately before serving to maintain its intense flavor and aroma. Whole peppercorns should be purchased and ground directly on or into the dish. Pre-ground pepper has a much duller flavor than freshly ground pepper and will lose its aroma relatively quickly. Pepper, whether whole or ground, should be kept in a cool, dark place.  Food for thought:

  • Crack whole peppercorns with the side of a large knife and rub onto ribs, steak, or lamb
  • Add pepper to gingerbread and other ginger flavored cookies or cakes
  • Add ground or cracked peppercorns to marinades, sauces, soups or stocks
  • For a light salad dressing, add cracked pepper and lemon juice to olive oil
  • Add cracked peppercorns, balsamic glaze and a touch of parmesan cheese to the top of grilled steal before serving - easy and elegant
  • Sprinkle whole or sliced strawberries with balsamic vinegar, dust with brown sugar and some fresh-ground black peppercorns.


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