Black peppercorn. The fruit of a perennial vine with large leaves and white flowers. Green peppercorns are the unripe fruits picked early and pickled. Black peppercorns are picked just before they ripen and white peppercorns are the ripe, black peppercorns with the black skin flaked off. They are best kept whole and ground when required. Historically, pepper was one of the world's most important spices. Columbus sailed West, not East, in search of pepper in the East Indies. Instead he found the Americas and allspice.