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Synonyms: black pepper, white pepper, green pepper

botanical name: Piper nigrum



The shrub is presumably native to the foothills of the Himalayas and the south-western coast of India. Pepper was known in India as early as 3000 years ago and it was a valuable spice for the ancient Greeks and Romans in the Mediterranean area.


Today, pepper is grown in the tropics on both sides of the equator, mainly in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Brazil. Among the most important exporters are Madagascar and Vietnam.

Dried peppercorns are available at all times of the year, whole or ground. Green and red pepper is also sold pickled in brine or vinegar.

Appearance, taste, characteristics
The pepper plant is an evergreen climbing shrub that grows up to 10 m tall. It is cultivated on wooden stakes or wire frames and cut back to a height of 3–5 m. The leaves are round to oblong, tapered, more than 15 cm long and up to 10 cm wide.

Round fruits, 3–7 mm, develop from the inconspicuous greenish-white blossoms and hang down like panicles. These are the peppercorns. The different forms of pepper marketed stem from the same plant; the fruits are first green and then turn a bright red when they mature.

The time when they are harvested and how they are treated thereafter determine which form is produced (black, white, green or red).

* Black pepper:

To obtain black pepper, the unripe, green drupes are picked, just when the lowermost fruits begin to turn red. They are left in piles to ferment for some days or are immersed briefly in boiling water. Then the fruits are dried in lofts or in the sun until they are brown-black and wrinkled. Black pepper tastes spicy and burning hot.

* Green pepper:

Like black pepper, green pepper is obtained from fruits that are harvested green and unripe. To prevent them from turning brown due to oxidation, the peppercorns are put immediately into a salt or vinegar brine or dried in a special process. Green pepper is still soft, highly aromatic, but milder and less hot than black pepper.

* White pepper:
Only fully ripe fruits are processed to make white pepper. They are soaked for a week to 10 days after being picked so that the softened pulp comes loose from the seed. This is normally done by rubbing, treading, or with mechanical peeling devices. After being washed again, the grey seeds are likewise dried and take on a creamy, grey-white hue. Owing to being peeled, white peppercorns are somewhat smaller than black ones. White pepper has a finer flavour, not as hot as and less pungent than black pepper.

* Red pepper:
The fully ripe red fruits of the pepper tree are, like green pepper, immersed in a salt or vinegar brine. The skin of red pepper is soft; the flavour is fine, slightly sweet and fruity-piquant.

Peppercorns contain 1–4% essential oil; the type and amount depend on the type of pepper, the growth conditions and the processing of the fresh fruits. The oil determines the aroma of the peppercorns. Among the most common ingredients are caryophyllene, pinene, sabinene, limonene, carene, phellandrene and myrcene.

Piperine is responsible for the spicy heat of pepper. Peppercorns also contain flavonoids.

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

There are a number of different pepper varieties, above all in India. This spice is traded, however, according to its country of origin or the port of export. For example, the best white pepper is considered to be Indonesian Muntok.

Dried peppercorns should be stored dry and protected from light. In an airtight container they will remain aromatic for at least a year. It is best to buy whole peppercorns and to grind them or crush them in a mortar only as needed, because otherwise the aroma quickly evaporates.

Pickled green or red peppercorns should be kept in the refrigerator after they are opened for the first time.

Presumed effect on health
The piquant and aromatic taste of pepper, when eaten, leads to an increased production of saliva, gastric juices and bile. Therefore, it is an appetizer and a digestive. The piperine that it contains has an anti-inflammatory effect and appears to increase the resorption of various drugs and natural substances. Extracts and the essential oil of pepper are antimicrobial, but not against moulds. It is presumed that pepper oil promotes the liver's capacity to detoxify. Today, pepper is used as a spice and not as a healing remedy; earlier it was used for cholera and skin diseases.

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation
Dried peppercorns are used whole, crushed and ground. Their strongly spicy aroma is most effective when they are freshly ground. Whole peppercorns can be cooked with other herbs in a spice bag.

Green and red fruits are also sold pickled in a salt or vinegar brine and are mostly used whole.
In the countries that produce pepper, peppercorns are even used fresh.

Pepper takes first place among the spices, and the black and white forms are the most important commercially.

Pepper is contained in most spice mixtures and goes with almost every dish. It is used chiefly for salty and hearty dishes, but it also goes well with fruits, desserts, cakes, jams, and gingerbread.
White pepper is preferred above all in light-coloured fish and meat dishes and in white sauces, because it looks better in these foods than black pepper. Owing to its mild and aromatic flavour, green pepper is suited especially for soups, creamy sauces, marinades, rice meat and as an ingredient in cheese. It does not taste as good with sweet dishes. Pickled peppercorns should always be rinsed prior to use.

Seasoning tip
Pepper goes with almost all other spices and enhances their aroma.


Light-coloured pepper is not the same as white pepper; rather, it consists of peeled black peppercorns. Pink pepper does not come from the same plant as the forms mentioned above, but rather from the plant Schinus terebinthifolius, a species of the cashew family. It tastes not only peppery, but also sweet and like turpentine.





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