NamingThe word "pepper" has its roots in the Dravidian word for long pepper, ''pippali''. Ancient Greek and Latin turned ''pippali'' into the Latin ''piper'', which was used by the Romans to refer both to black pepper and long pepper, as the Romans erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. Today's "pepper" derives from the Old English ''pipor''. The Latin word is also the source of Romanian ''piper'', Italian ''pepe'', Dutch ''peper'', German ''Pfeffer'', French ''poivre'', and other similar forms.
In the 16th century, ''pepper'' started referring to the unrelated New World chili pepper as well. "Pepper" was used in a figurative sense to mean "spirit" or "energy" at least as far back as the 1840s; in the early 20th century, this was shortened to ''pep''.
In Hindi, it is called "kaali mirch" , "kuru mulagu" and "nalla mulagu" in Malayalam and in Tulu, it is called "edde munchi" .
EvolutionPepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia and has been known to Indian cooking since at least 2 BCE. J. Innes Miller notes that while pepper was grown in southern Thailand and in Malaysia, its most important source was India, particularly the Malabar Coast, in what is now the state of Kerala Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term "peppercorn rent" as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given.
The ancient history of black pepper is often interlinked with that of long pepper, the dried fruit of closely related ''Piper longum''. The Romans knew of both and often referred to either as just "piper". In fact, it was not until the discovery of the New World and of chili peppers that the popularity of long pepper entirely declined. Chili peppers, some of which when dried are similar in shape and taste to long pepper, were easier to grow in a variety of locations more convenient to Europe.
Before the 16th century, pepper was being grown in Java, Sunda, Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, and everywhere in Southeast Asia. These areas traded mainly with China, or used the pepper locally. Ports in the Malabar area also served as a stop-off point for much of the trade in other spices from farther east in the Indian Ocean. Following the British hegemony in India, virtually all of the black pepper found in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa was traded from Malabar region.
Black pepper, along with other spices from Southern and Southeast Asia and lands farther east, changed the course of world history. It was in some part the preciousness of these spices that led to the Portuguese efforts to find a sea route to China during the age of discovery and consequently to the Portuguese colonial occupation of that country, as well as the European discovery and colonisation of the Americas.
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