'There's certainly too much pepper in that soup!' Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing. — Alice in Wonderland (1865). Chapter VI: Pig and Pepper. Note the cook's pepper mill.
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. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is a small drupe approximately 5 millimetres (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature, containing a single seed. Peppercorns, and the powdered pepper derived from grinding them, may be described as black pepper, white pepper, green pepper, and very often only pepper. The terms pink peppercorns, red pepper (as in bell or chile), and green pepper (as in bell or chile) are also used to describe the fruits of other, unrelated plants. Sichuan peppercorn is another "pepper" that is botanically unrelated to black pepper. However, green peppercorns are also simply the immature black peppercorns.
Black pepper is native to South India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions.
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity for both its flavor and as a medicine. It is one of the most common spices added to European cuisine and its descendants. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine. It may be found on nearly every dinner table in some parts of the world, often alongside table salt.
The word "pepper" is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit pippali, the word for long pepper via the Latin piper which was used by the Romans to refer both to pepper and long pepper, as the Romans erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. The English word for pepper is derived from the Old English pipor. The Latin word is also the source of German Pfeffer, French poivre, Dutch peper, and other similar forms. In the 16th century, pepper started referring to the unrelated New World chile peppers as well. "Pepper" was used in a figurative sense to mean "spirit" or "energy" at least as far back as the 1840s; in the early 20th century, this was shortened to pep.