By Chindukulkarni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Variants_of_Pepper.jpg)
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November is National Peppercorn Month in the United States.
This month is sometimes called National Pepper Month, but it is best known as Peppercorn, not Pepper. This is to distinguish it as being about pepper, the spice, rather than pepper, the vegetable. The spice is the fruit of a flowering vine that is native to south India. The fruit is small, and each drupe contains a single seed.
Today, pepper is a common, and inexpensive, condiment and cooking ingredient, but this was not always true. During the Middle Ages, for example, pepper, the spice, was the one of the most expensive substances in Europe. During this time, pepper was extremely rare, and had to be shipped in from India, and fortunes were made trading in it, especially in regards to the powerful mercantile city-state of Venice, which was for years associated with the pepper trade. Pepper was even used as a form of collateral or currency, it was so valuable. In modern times, pepper, which is often paired with salt on tables, is the on of the most common spices used in European cooking, and cuisines descended from it. The biggest exporter and producer in modern times is actually Vietnam, not its native India.
The most common types of peppercorn are black and white. Black peppercorns are cooked and dried unripe fruit, and white ones are ripe fruit seeds. Other varieties include green, which is dried unripe fruit, and red, which is ripe red pepper preserved in brine and vinegar. There are other variations, some of which actually come from different plants.