The history of the spice trade is, above all, the history of pepper, the 'King of Spices'. It has been moving westward from India for 4,000 years.
Black pepper, along with other spices from South and Southeast Asia, 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 India. Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as "black gold" and used as a form of commodity money.
Pepper is best purchased whole, as freshly ground pepper is vastly superior to the ready ground powder. Whole peppercorns retain their flavour indefinitely but quickly lose both aroma and heat on grinding. Peppercorns are very hard but may be easily ground in a peppermill. Pepper is best ground directly on to food and with hot food to add it well towards the end of the cooking process, to preserve its aroma.