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, known as a peppercorn. When fresh and fully mature, it is about 5 mm (0.20 in) in diameter and dark red, and contains a single seed, like all drupes. Peppercorns and the ground pepper derived from them may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit), and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds).
Black pepper is native to Kerala in Southwestern India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. Vietnam is the world's largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world's P. nigrum crop as of 2013.
Archaeological evidence of pepper use goes back to at least 2000 B.C. in India. References to pepper appear in Greek and Roman texts, suggesting an ancient trade between India and the West. The Romans loved adding pepper to their food; in fact, in the oldest known cookbook in existence, 80 percent of the recipes contain the spice. Signs of an ancient pepper trade from India to Egypt have also been found, including peppercorns that had been stuffed into the nostrils of Ramses the Great when he was mummified.
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity both for its flavor and as a traditional medicine. Black pepper is the world's most traded spice and is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world. Its spiciness is due to the chemical piperine, not to be confused with the capsaicin characteristic of chili peppers. It is ubiquitous in the modern world as a seasoning and is often paired with salt.