Nowadays, if you want to spice your dish, you quickly grab your pepper mill to grind some black pepper over your plate. It wasn't so easy in the olden days to thoughtlessly use such precious spices. Some centuries ago, exotic spices were exclusively destined to the wealthy elite of a country. It were the bold crews of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) that brought black pepper within reach of the Dutch people. They cut out the middle men, the Arab traders.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is native to southern India and present day Sri Lanka, but it is widely planted nowadays in many parts of the tropics. Today, the largest exporter is Vietnam. The plant is a vine that can grow up to four meters in length and tries to reach for the skies via other forest dwellers. The black pepper vine is able to spread via its branches: if they touch the ground they will almost instantaneously take root. The berries of the vine ripen from green via red to brown.
The first part of the scientific name, Piper, has reached us via the Greek and Persian languages and can be traced back to the ancient Sanskrit: pippali means 'long pepper'. The second part, nigrus, is Latin and means 'black'.