Pepper, which originally comes from India and has been a favorite spice since Antiquity, decreased in popularity after the discovery of America. The hot chili peppers found there began to be used in place of pepper in many Asian dishes, and pepper was no longer the most important spicy seasoning.
From Wikipedia: “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. When dried, the fruit is known as a peppercorn. When fresh and fully mature, it is approximately 5 millimetres (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed. Peppercorns, and the ground pepper derived from them, may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit) and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds).”
“Piperine is under study for its potential to increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B12, beta-carotene and curcumin, as well as other compounds. As a folk 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 phytochemicals, including amides, piperidines, pyrrolidines and trace amounts of safrole which may be carcinogenic in laboratory rodents.
Piperine is under study for a variety of possible physiological effects, although this work is preliminary and mechanisms of activity for piperine in the human body remain unknown.
One tablespoon (6 grams) of ground black pepper contains moderate amounts of vitamin K (13% of the daily value or DV), iron (10% DV) and manganese (18% DV), with trace amounts of other essential nutrients, protein and dietary fibre.”
“Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from piperine derived both from the outer fruit and the seed. Black pepper contains between 4.6% and 9.7% piperine by mass, and white pepper slightly more than that.”
The different colors are a result of varying harvesting times and treatments.
- “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 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.
- Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe drupes. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green colour, such as treatment with sulphur dioxide, canning or freeze-drying. Pickled peppercorns, also green, are unripe drupes preserved in brine or vinegar.
- White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant alone, with the darker-coloured skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe red pepper berries 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.
- Orange pepper or red pepper usually consists of ripe red pepper drupes preserved in brine and vinegar. Ripe red peppercorns can also be dried using the same colour-preserving techniques used to produce green pepper. ... ”
“Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term "peppercorn rent" as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given.”