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(CNN) — Don’t sneeze! November is National Peppercorn Month.

Usually salt gets all the credit for making a dish stand out, but it’s time to focus some of that attention on pepper. Pepper has been around for more than 3,000 years, and back in the day, was even referred to as “black gold.” The spice was so prized that pharaohs would be buried with peppercorns … stuffed up their nostrils.

Peppercorns also had a hand in global exploration: When Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in search of India, he was looking for the source of pepper so that Portugal could control the trade of the precious spice.

Peppercorns are the dried fruit of the Piperaceae plant. Usually the peppercorns are ground, but some food preparations use them whole.

In addition to black pepper, today, you’ll find white, pink, green and even orange peppercorns in gourmet grocery stores and markets. While most people use peppercorns in savory applications, pink peppercorns are often used in dessert or even in cocktails.

If you’re going to make pepper the star of your dish, it’s worth investing in a good pepper grinder; one that has different settings for finer grinds will allow you to get more use out of your peppercorns. Peppercorns also last a long time if sealed in an airtight container.
By Emily Smith
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