It's about time I wrote about pepper. Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The same fruit is also used to produce white pepper, red/pink pepper, and green pepper. Pepper has been with us for a very long time: black peppercorns were found lodged in the nostrils of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BCE.
For general use in the kitchen, it's probably a good bet to buy good quality black peppercorns, and then grind them yourself in a decent pepper mill. I've got one of those obscenely vulgar and gi-normous wooden pepper mills; you know- the sort of phallic things that those irritating Italian waiters pester you with, just as you're about to tuck into your gnocchi alla Romana.
If you're in a foodie sort of mood, may I point you in the direction of the Paramesaran Wynad Black Peppercorn from Kerela; considered by many connoisseurs to be the best pepper in the world. Usually pepper is picked before it has ripened. The Paramesaran pepper is picked after it has ripened, is never sprayed (and therefore, genuinely organic), and involves workers slithering up long poles to get to it. It's all very labour intensive, as you can imagine, and of course, fiendishly expensive.