Bet You Didn't Know Where Peppercorns Come From

Believe it or not, they're dried fruits, technically speaking.

It's been a medicine worth its weight in gold, it cures meats, it's one of the most popular and oldest spices in the world and nearly everybody eats it every day. As you put together your nightly dinner plans, you'll undoubtedly have black pepper on the ingredient list.

But you might be surprised to know how it gets to your pepper mill, or how it's cultivated.

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It starts on the vine.

Black peppercorns come from the fruit that grows on the Piper nigrum L. plant, mainly around the Equator in India, Indonesia, Sarawak, Malaysia and Brazil.

They're picked when still green on the vine, and turn black when oxidized during the drying process.
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The little peppercorns are the drupe of the vine (a fruit with a single seed).

Unless they're preserved, these green peppercorns in the photo will likely darken in the drying process to the black color we see every day.
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A method of extracting peppercorns is stepping on them to break the stem from the fruit.
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Women sift peppercorns at an Indian spice market.
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Pepper kernels are spread out to dry in the sun, such as these in Batang Ai National Park in Borneo.
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Once dry, peppercorns are ready to be shipped out to market.
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Workers sort black peppercorns in a spice warehouse in Kochi, India.
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Peppercorns were once so necessary that during the good old medieval days, a pound of pepper -- also known as black gold -- could buy a serf his freedom.
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India is a major producer of the world's pepper -- approximately 893,920 tons of various spices, valued at $2.4 billion, were exported between 2014 and 2015, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation.
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The peppercorn's color varies based on how it's prepared: According to the Farmers Almanac, white peppercorns are made from the same fruit as the black, but allowed to fully ripen, which will turn red, and are then soaked. The red skin is removed and the white fruit remains.

Green and red peppercorns are preserved to keep their color. Green are picked before they're ripe and red are what a ripe drupe looks like -- pink peppercorns come from a totally different plant altogether: dried berries of a South African shrub.

CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the value of India's spice exports as $2.4 million; it is $2.4 billion.

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