Pepper has been used as a spice in India since prehistoric times. Pepper is native to India and has been known to Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE. J. Innes Miller notes that while pepper was grown in southern Thailand and in Malaysia, its most important source was India, particularly the Malabar Coast, in what is now the state of Kerala. Peppercorns were a much prized trade good, often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money. The term "peppercorn rent" still exists today.
The ancient history of black pepper is often interlinked with (and confused with) that of long pepper, the dried fruit of closely related Piper longum. The Romans knew of both and often referred to either as just "piper". Black pepper was a well-known and widespread, if expensive, seasoning in the Roman Empire. Apicius' De re coquinaria, a 3rd-century cookbook probably based at least partly on one from the 1st century CE, includes pepper in a majority of its recipes. Edward Gibbon wrote, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that pepper was "a favourite ingredient of the most expensive Roman cookery".
Until well after the Middle Ages, virtually all of the black pepper found in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa travelled there from India's Malabar region. By the 16th century, pepper was also being grown in Java, Sunda, Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but these areas traded mainly with China, or used the pepper locally. Ports in the Malabar area also served as a stop-off point for much of the trade in other spices from farther east in the Indian Ocean.
Black pepper, along with other spices from India and lands farther east, changed the course of world history. It was in some part the preciousness of these spices that led to the European efforts to find a sea route to India and consequently to the European colonial occupation of that country, as well as the European discovery and colonization of the Americas.
Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from the piperine compound, which is found both in the outer fruit and in the seed. Refined piperine, milligram-for-milligram, is about one percent as hot as the capsaicin in chilli peppers. The outer fruit layer, left on black pepper, also contains important odour-contributing terpenes including pinene, sabinene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool, which give citrusy, woody, and floral notes. These scents are mostly missing in white pepper, which is stripped of the fruit layer. White pepper can gain some different odours (including musty notes) from its longer fermentation stage.
Pepper loses flavour and aroma through evaporation, so airtight storage helps preserve pepper's original spiciness longer. Pepper can also lose flavour when exposed to light, which can transform piperine into nearly tasteless isochavicine.Once ground, pepper's aromatics can evaporate quickly; most culinary sources recommend grinding whole peppercorns immediately before use for this reason. Handheld pepper mills (or "pepper grinders"), which mechanically grind or crush whole peppercorns, are used for this, sometimes instead of pepper shakers, dispensers of pre-ground pepper. Spice mills such as pepper mills were found in European kitchens as early as the 14th century, but the mortar and pestle used earlier for crushing pepper remained a popular method for centuries after as well.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)stimulates the taste buds in such a way that an alert is sent to to the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, thereby improving digestion. Hydrochloric acid is necessary for the digestion of proteins and other food components in the stomach. When the body's production of hydrochloric acid is insufficient, food may sit in the stomach for an extended period of time, leading to heartburn or indigestion, or it may pass into the intestines, where it can be used as a food source for unfriendly gut bacteria, whose activities produce gas, irritation, and/or diarrhea or constipation.
Black pepper has long been recognized as a carminitive, (a substance that helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas), a property likely due to its beneficial effect of stimulating hydrochloric acid production. In addition, black pepper has diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and diuretic (promotes urination) properties.
Black pepper has demonstrated impressive antioxidant and antibacterial effects--yet another way in which this wonderful seasoning promotes the health of the digestive tract. And not only does black pepper help you derive the most benefit from your food, the outer layer of the peppercorn stimulates the breakdown of fat cells, keeping you slim while giving you energy to burn.