Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

pepper the common spice, black pepper, Piper nigrum.

True peppers belong to the genus Piper, but the common name ‘pepper’ has been applied to very different articles; sometimes, as with capsicum peppers in the 15th century, this was done deliberately to cause confusion.

To summarize: the peppers that belong to the genus Piper—the ‘true’ peppers—are: white and black pepper, which are described below; long pepper; ashanti pepper; and cubeb pepper. Other foodstuffs called ‘pepper’, for varying, sometimes not very obvious, reasons include sichuan pepper, red peppercorns, melegueta pepper, Jamaica pepper (see allspice), peppermint, capsicum peppers, and cayenne (which also deals with Nepal pepper). The actual word ‘pepper’ comes from the Sanskrit pippali where it referred to long pepper.