Since the 15th century, pepper has played a large role in the history of trade between East and West, adding a new dimension to the art of cookery and food preparation. From the earliest days of grinding the dried corns in a mortar and pestle, we have now reached the stage in modern cooking at which salt and pepper can be ground through sophisticated and beautifully decorated salt and pepper mills for all tastes and types of dining.
Know your Salt & Pepper
Peppercorns originate from the vine of Piper nigrum, a wild plant which is cultivated in South Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.
Being neither savory nor sweet, pepper is used today in a variety of different products, including aftershave, perfume, and candies. However, by far the best way to use this remarkable spice is to grind it onto foods.
Grinding the dried peppercorn releases the peppering oils and the true flavor is transferred into the food. To achieve the best flavor results, the release of the oils has to be spontaneous.
Salt is essential for life. Human blood is a saline solution and the sodium component of salt is necessary for osmosis, which is responsible for the transfer of essential foods across cell membranes in the body.
Salt is produced in several ways – by solar evaporation, rock salt mining, or solution mining. The healthiest type of salt is Evaporated Sea Salt that has no additional chemicals but contains up to 84 mineral elements, 24 of which are essential for life. By contrast, refined salt loses 82 of the 84 elements in the refining process and the additives make it harder for the body to process and eliminate any excess.
Why should I grind?
One of the best ways to release peppering oils from a peppercorn is to grind the corns through a mill. Stripping the corn between two sets of teeth grinding towards each other releases the peppering oils simultaneously and therefore, gives the best flavor. Traditionally, steel-based mechanisms have been used to mill pepper, although ceramic mechanisms will do the job just as well.
In judging a good pepper mill, the quality of the mechanism should always be the first consideration. If the mechanism has been specifically designed and is carbon or stainless steel with a lifetime guarantee, you can be assured that the pepper mill has been produced with the best-quality grind in mind. Only the highest-quality coatings on carbon steel mechanisms should be used to guarantee a lifetime free of corrosion and prevent the addition of metal to your meal.
Salt grinders are a whole different ball game. Salt is one of the most corrosive materials known to man, and therefore, must be treated with respect. Many producers use nylon mechanisms, as nylon is tough and inert and will not be affected by salt. Nylon mechanisms, however, can be ground down using rock salt, so it’s important to use sea salt to maintain the best of both worlds – a healthy mill and a healthy body. Ceramic mechanisms are also a good choice for grinding salt since they are inert and much harder than plastic.
What’s the right mill for me?
Consumers ponder three attributes when shopping for spice mills – the look, the mechanism’s quality, and the price. Thousands of different types, looks, and designs from the traditional wooden shape to the wild and wacky, to highly designed “one-of-a-kind” mills are available. Mills may come as individual salt and pepper mills, salt-and-pepper combos, or gift sets. They can be made of acrylic, glass, stainless steel, wood, or a mixture of all four.
Following are some handy tips:
- Always grind in a clockwise direction when milling pepper or salt.
- To adjust a mill, loosen or tighten the knob on top for finer or coarser grinds.
- Turn the mill upside down when adjusting it to ensure the mill is empty of previous-size grounds.
- Only clean your mills with a dry brush.
- When using a metal mechanism salt mill, only use rock salt.
- Avoid direct contact with steam when grinding as it can clog up your salt mill and make the peppercorns moister than normal.
- Store stocks of salt and pepper in dry, clean environments.
- Put a few grains of rice in the salt shakers to stop the salt from clogging – the rice will absorb any moisture.
- Give the pepper mill a quick shake after grinding to prevent excess grounds from falling out of the mill.