The pepper of commerce is produced from unripe fruits of the perennial climbing vine and is available in two distinct forms – black pepper and white pepper.
The former consists of the whole dried fruits picked while still green and sun dried.
During drying they turn to a brownish black color with the individual peppercorns having a much wrinkled outer skin.
White pepper is the dried kernel of the fruits which are gathered when they are just turning slightly yellow.
The fruit are subsequently soaked in water to soften and loosen the outer skin which is then removed by friction, white peppercorns are smooth surfaced.
Pepper originated in the Western Ghats of India from where it has spread to many parts of tropical Asia, notably Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
As a seasoning and condiment, pepper is second to none, and its use is ubiquitous.
The distinctive odor and flavor of pepper overlie its pungency due to its essential oil content which varies both quantitatively and qualitatively between sources and varieties.
The chemical composition of the oil is complex and is present from 1 to 3%.
The oil from white pepper contains similar components to that from black pepper are markedly different from that of the spice stored in a ground condition as regular users of the domestic pepper mill will readily attest.
Not only does the ground material soon lose it pleasing freshness but it also develops an obvious and insistent ammoniacal note which detracts from its true peppery character.
The profile of essential oil distilled directly from freshly crushed peppercorns has a most attractive nuance much appreciated in blending of high quality, spicy fragrances.