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 Proffer, 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.
Black pepper is produced from the still-green unripe berries of the pepper plant. The berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat ruptures cell walls in the pepper, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The berries are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.
White pepper consists of the seed of the pepper plant only, with the darker colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting, where fully ripe peppers are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes. Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried. Alternative processes are used for removing the outer pepper from the seed, including decortication, the removal of the outer layer from black pepper from small peppers through mechanical, chemical or biological methods.
White pepper is sometimes used in dishes like light-colored sauces or mashed potatoes, where ground black pepper would visibly stand out. There is disagreement regarding which is generally spicier. They have differing flavor due to the presence of certain compounds in the outer fruit layer of the berry that are not found in the seed.
Green pepper, like black, is made from the unripe berries. Dried green peppercorns are treated in a way that retains the green color, such as treatment with sulfur dioxide or freeze-drying. Pickled peppercorns, also green, are unripe berries preserved in brine or vinegar. Fresh, unpreserved green pepper berries, largely unknown in the West, are used in some Asian cuisines, particularly Thai cuisine. Their flavor has been described as piquant and fresh, with a bright aroma. They decay quickly if not dried or preserved.
Orange pepper and red pepper
A product called orange pepper or red pepper consists of ripe red pepper berries preserved in brine and vinegar. Ripe red peppercorns can also be dried using the same color-preserving techniques used to produce green pepper. Pink pepper from Piper nigrum is distinct from the more-common dried “pink peppercorns”, which are the fruits of a plant from a different family, the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, and its relative the Brazilian pepper tree, Schinus terebinthifolius. In years past there was debate as to the health safety of pink peppercorns, which is mostly no longer an issue