Why Everyone Needs a Pepper Grinder

Why Everyone Needs a Pepper Grinder

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    Pepper is the number one selling spice on earth for one good reason: peppercorns are the only spice you can use to replace ball bearings when your BB gun runs out of ammunition. Of course, they can be used on food as well, which only adds to their popularity.

    I’ve had teachers, no-it-alls and pseudo intellectuals tell me that, in the days of yore, peppercorns were used as currency, but I never believed them. Come on; that just sounds too made up. After all, who would use something you can eat for money? Sure, we all get those gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins every year for either Christmas or Hanukah, but have you ever tried to spend one? I could speak of the humiliation I faced as a child, back before I realized that they were full of chocolate, but I try not to go there.

    You undoubtedly know some people who have a restricted diet—either self-imposed or imposed onto them by a doctor—who never keep salt in the house. I do, and I never dine in those homes. However, every such household invariably has one or more containers of black pepper that the residents use ranging from in moderation to excessively, because, unlike our dear friend salt, pepper can’t raise your blood pressure, affect your heart or throw your blood electrolytes out of whack.

    My wife and I have had an ongoing debate as to the origins of peppercorns. I have seen pepper trees all over Southern California and have pointed them out to her on many occasions, claiming that they are the source of black peppercorns. She, on the other hand, had a whacky notion that peppercorns grew on vines. How absurd! So I did a little research into the matter. Let’s just say that, as a man with a male ego, I am not about to tell her that she was right all along.

    Most Americans, unfortunately, buy their pepper pre-ground in a small can. As one with decades of experience in the kitchen—from both sides of the counter—I can attest that this is most unwise, as the majority of the flavor dissipates shortly after peppercorns are ground.  The peppercorns themselves, when whole, can retain their full flavor for a very long time (perhaps hundreds of years, or more) due to their hard exterior shells.

    Granted, using a pepper grinder is a pain in the rear when you need a considerable amount of pepper in a spicy recipe; I’ve twisted my wrists into painful spasms trying to grind the three or four tablespoons of pepper that I needed for one of my larger piquant recipes. But alas, I have found a better way.

    Many people buy whole bean coffee and grind their own beans at home (don’t be confused; though it may seem so, I am not changing the subject). This I strongly recommend, for the freshness statement I made earlier holds true for coffee as well; it’s always better freshly ground. Now, when you go to buy your faithful coffee grinder, buy another one, or maybe even a couple extras. When you get home, label them clearly, because you do not want to use your pepper grinder to grind your coffee accidentally. That’s just wrong. However, the electric grinders used for coffee beans have very powerful motors and sharp blades that have no problem chopping through rock-hard peppercorns. I also use my “spice” (formerly coffee) grinder for dried red chilies, oregano, cloves, etc. This is where it’s a good idea to have more than one spice grinder: it helps to have one for spicy herbs, and one for savory or sweet spices.

    However, every kitchen or dining room table should contain a good manual pepper grinder if you care about taste at all.

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