Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes 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 drupes dry in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper skin around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dry, the spice is called black peppercorn. On some estates, the berries are separated from the stem by hand and then sun-dried without the boiling process.
Once the peppercorns are dried, pepper spirit and oil can be extracted from the berries by crushing them. Pepper spirit is used in many medicinal and beauty products. Pepper oil is also used as an ayurvedicmassage oil and in certain beauty and herbal treatments.
As of 2016, Vietnam was the world’s largest producer and exporter of black peppercorns, producing 216,000 tonnes or 39% of the world total of 546,000 tonnes (table). Other major producers include Indonesia (15%), India (10%), and Brazil (10%). Global pepper production may vary annually according to crop management, disease, and weather. Vietnam dominates the export market, using almost none of its production domestically.
Peppercorns are among the most widely traded spice in the world, accounting for 20% of all spice imports.
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 4 m (13 ft) in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire, 5 to 10 cm (2.0 to 3.9 in) long and 3 to 6 cm (1.2 to 2.4 in) across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 4 to 8 cm (1.6 to 3.1 in) long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 7 to 15 cm (2.8 to 5.9 in) as the fruit matures.Pepper can be grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter (the vines do not do too well over an altitude of 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level). The plants are propagated by cuttings about 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) long, tied up to neighbouring trees or climbing frames at distances of about 2 m (6 ft 7 in) apart; trees with rough bark are favoured over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are covered in leaf mulch and manure, and the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils, the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and then typically for seven years. The cuttings are usually cultivars, selected both for yield and quality of fruit.