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Without a doubt pepper is one of, if not the single, most desired spice around the world. Pepper (also known by its formal name as Piper nigrum) is frequently used to add a little spice to just about every meal of the day, and has been for more than five millennia now.
There are two common types of pepper that are used in cooking. The first, black pepper, is the traditional American favorite. White pepper, the other type of pepper, is also a favorite with some in the United States, but is more popular overseas. The pepper spice actually comes from the fruit, or berries, of a perennial climbing vine. These berries often have the appearance of currant berries, since they are small, red, and clustered together on the vine.
The main difference between black and white pepper is when the berries are actually picked. For black pepper, the berries are picked prior to them being fully ripe. After they have been dried out, they begin to take on the appearance of the familiar black pepper corn, which has a black appearance on the outside but has a white interior. The white pepper is picked a little later in the season, when the fruit has actually become more ripe. As a result of this, there is a more mellow and often a slightly sweeter taste. White pepper gets its name from the fact that the black husk is often removed, and therefore has an often white look.
Most of the pepper found in the world actually comes from the Malabar coast of India, and because of this the names for the variety of peppers usually reflect this influence. For example there are Alleppey, Calicut, and Sarawak white peppers to name just a few. Typically speaking, pepper is usually considered the single most masculine and no-nonsense of the spices. Pepper is used when you are looking for a quick and simple way to spice up your food with little attempt for subtlety.
Pepper is used for more than just seasoning your food. Some of the other uses that people use pepper for include everything from getting rid of ants around the home to fixing a leak in your radiator. One of the more long lasting uses for pepper throughout history is as a defensive weapon. Pepper spray is the modern incarnation of this defensive weapon, and is effective due to the main spicy ingredient in pepper, piperine. The greater the concentration of this compound in pepper, the stronger or "hotter" the spice will be.