Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is one of the most widely used seasonings in the Western world, surpassed only by salt. The pepper plant is indigenous to India where its use can be traced back to early human history. In Greece pepper was traded as a currency and commodity, such was it prized by the Greeks. Pepper, like salt was popular because it could hide the taste of unfresh food before refrigeration and also because it could improve the taste of bland food. One quarter of the spice production in the World is accounted for by pepper, which grows as a round peppercon on the pepper plant. Black pepper can be refined with the outer black husk being removed prior to milling, and this leaves just the white inner seed layers that have a more aromatic taste. In addition, peppercorns can be picked in an unripe condition and then pickled producing green pepper. The taste of green pepper is again different and in this regard has a more herb like taste.
Black pepper is traditionally used to treat digestive disorders because of its ability to increase stomach acid production and this is able to improve the digestive process. Black pepper also has calmative, antibiotic, diuretic and diaphoretic properties than can make it useful as a general tonic. The high content of antioxidants also make black pepper a generally healthy food against conditions characterised by systemic oxidative stress, such as metabolic syndrome, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Piperine is an active component in pepper which may increase the absorption of certain nutrients (although care should be made when interpreting such studies: here). Piperine may also have thermogenic properties and be able to enhance liver detoxification rates for particular chemicals. The best way to use pepper is by grinding whole peppercorns as this allows the nutritional content to remain fresher for longer.