The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately 5 millimeters in diameter, dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed.
Four separate colored peppercorns are available from the pepper plant; white, black, green and red. As the plant matures, the drupes are harvested and dried using a specific procedure in order to maintain the color and flavor of that stage in the plant growth.
Black peppercorns are the most prevalent, and use the unripe green fruit which is boiled to rupture the cell walls and then dried using either the sun or commercial drying ovens. During the drying process, the enzymes released when the fruit was boiled break down and turn brown, then shrivel to a very thin covering giving the peppercorn the traditional 'wrinkled' look. The taste is a unique bright warm and back-of-the-tongue open taste which dissipates relatively fast; peppercorns have been used since antiquity in medicine beauty treatments, as well as for culinary use.
Green peppercorns are the unripe fruit, using sulphur dioxide, canning, or freeze-drying to maintain the green color. The flavor has been described as piquant and fresh, with a bright aroma.
Red pepper is obtained from the plant by allowing the drupes to ripen fully, and then preserving the color according to the same processes as green pepper. In some cases, Red Peppercorns lose their sweet flavor due to the processing. In many cases - Pink Pepper is substituted, which is not Piper nigrum, but a close relative named Schinus molle, or Brazillian Pepper. The fruit remains pink in color and maintains the sweet flavor of the fruit.
White pepper is the fully ripe fruit which is harvested and then the fruit is removed from the seed, leaving only the peppercorn.