Black pepper or Piper nigrum is a dried fruit called a peppercorn which comes from a flowering vine native to South India. This vine in the Piperaceae family produces a fruit about 5 mm in diameter which is used for white, black, and green pepper.
For producing black pepper, the green, unripe berries of the plant are used. They are dried after being briefly put in hot water. The hot water serves two purposes - cleaning and as a way to get the enzymes working faster in the berry. Berries can be dried either in the sun or by machines and the result is the shriveled hard pieces we call black peppercorns.
In ancient times, black pepper was grown only in South India, but today it is cultivated in many places including Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and China. It can be grown in anything from home gardens to big plantations and is propagated by cuttings. The cuttings are placed next to a support over which the stems climb. These bushy plants can grow to 2M tall in the span of 3 years and the fruits are picked by hand. Harvests happen in 2 week intervals about 6 or 8 times each season.
This woody plant will root where trailing stems meet soil and, in nature, will climb on trees for support. It has leaves of 5 to 10 centimeters in length and 3 to 6 centimeters wide. The flowers grow on spikes that can grow up to 15 centimeters as the fruits mature.
The Piper nigrum likes moist, well drained soil - not too dry and not too wet either. It must have a support to grow on, either wooden stakes or neighboring trees and cuttings should be planted at least 2 meters apart. The roots should be covered in mulch and shoots trimmed twice yearly.
Black pepper vines will produce fruit after the 4th or 5th year and will continue to do so for about 7 years. Just one stem can produce up to 30 fruits which eventually are dried into the peppercorn. For black pepper, the fruits should be harvested as soon as 1 or 2 berries turn red at the base - before the others have matured.