The tree, sometimes called the “Peppertree”, is an evergreen tree that grows in tropical parts of Western Africa. The tree grows 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 metres) tall, with a trunk 24 to 28 inches (60 to 70 cm) wide. The tree will reproduce true to seed.
The seeds grow inside pods. In West Africa, the tree can flower and produce two crops of pods a year. The pods grow in clusters joined at the top, in the same way that a bunch of bananas does. The pods aren’t very long, only 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) Each pod will have anywhere from 5 to 8 flat seeds in it. The pod is scented but the seed is not.
When harvested, the pods are bright green. They are dried for up to a week in the sun after harvesting. While the pods are drying, they are often smoked as well to give a smoky taste. When the pods are dried, they are reddy-brown, and you can see the seeds through them.
The seeds are removed from the pods and crushed to be used as the spice called “Negro Pepper.” Negro Pepper has a very sharp, pungent taste with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Negro Pepper, through its various synonyms, is sometimes confused with Grains of Paradise, but Grains of Paradise is actually a separate spice.
Half pepper, half nutmeg
Negro Pepper is native to lowland forests in tropical Africa. It was used in Europe as a substitute for pepper up until the 1500s, then decreased in popularity as price of pepper started to fall. “Real” pepper was more popular as it doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste.
Negro Pepper is now not really exported out of Africa much.
Called “Uda” in Nigeria. The term “Guinea Pepper” in English gets used, confusingly, for both Negro Pepper and Grains of Paradise.