Salt or Pepper: Which Do You Prefer?

There are certain things that just seem to always go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Ketchup and mustard. Salt and…you guessed it! Pepper!

Most dining tables, whether at home or in restaurants, have a set of shakers filled with the two most popular spices in the world: salt and pepper. You can probably close your eyes and imagine exactly what each one tastes like. In fact, go ahead and give it a try right now.

If you’re thinking about salt, you might be picturing piping hot French fries sprinkled with just the right amount of salt to make them a delicious treat for your taste buds. When you think of pepper, you might imagine a sprinkle of black dots on mashed potatoes, eggs, or gravy, giving them a slightly spicy kick.

But how did salt and pepper become such staples on almost every dining table in America and many other parts of the world? Historians believe that salt and pepper have been paired together as condiments ever since 17th-century French chefs determined that these two spices were the only ones that didn’t overpower the true flavor of food.

Salt, a naturally occurring chemical compound known as sodium chloride or NaCl, has been around since the beginning of time. People quickly realized that salt could enhance the taste of food. Scientists now understand that saltiness is one of our primary taste sensations and that our tongues have special salt-sensing taste buds.

In addition, people discovered that salt could be used to preserve food, which was crucial before the invention of refrigeration. At one point in history, salt was so valuable that it was even traded at a higher value than gold.

Pepper, too, was once extremely valuable as a trading commodity. Initially grown primarily in India, it gained popularity in Europe. French chefs in the 17th century incorporated pepper into their cuisine, thus giving it the importance it still holds today.

But what exactly is pepper? Unlike salt, it is not a natural compound. So what is it? Black pepper is actually made from the unripe fruit, called peppercorns, of a plant called Piper nigrum. This flowering vine is native to Southern India, but much of the pepper we use today comes from countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, and Malaysia.

To make black pepper, the unripe green peppercorns are cooked in hot water and then dried. As they dry, they become dark, wrinkled, and hard. They are then crushed or ground to create the black pepper that we are familiar with, often found in shakers alongside salt.

You may have noticed chefs on television using pepper mills, which grind peppercorns on the spot to produce flavorful black pepper. Chefs often prefer using pepper mills because ground pepper tends to lose its flavor quickly. To get the most flavor from black pepper, they like to grind it fresh just before adding it to their dishes.

Some chefs also prefer to grind salt fresh. Nowadays, you can find salt and pepper grinders on grocery store shelves that can replace the traditional salt and pepper shakers on your dinner table at home.

Give It a Try

The response to today’s question was anything but clear-cut, wasn’t it? Keep exploring by trying one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • What varieties of salt and pepper are available? You may be accustomed to using plain salt and pepper, but a visit to your local supermarket’s spice section will reveal a wide range of options. For instance, you can find various types of salt, such as regular salt, sea salt, garlic salt, and onion salt. Can you discover any other varieties? What about pepper? You can probably locate whole peppercorns to use in a pepper grinder. How many other types of pepper can you find? Select one or two different varieties of salt and pepper and bring them home to experiment with on your favorite dishes. Which ones do you prefer?
  • Do you possess a pair of salt and pepper shakers at home? Most likely, you do! What do they look like? Inquire with friends and family members about their salt and pepper shakers. Do they resemble yours or are they different? Did you know that there are countless different types of salt and pepper shakers all over the world? Many people collect them. Visit the Salt & Pepper Novelty Shakers Club online to view pictures of some unique salt and pepper sets. What’s the most fascinating set of salt and pepper shakers you have ever encountered?
  • Time to put your taste buds to the test! That’s right. You’re going to determine how well your tongue functions by doing a blind taste test of one or more of your favorite foods with and without salt and pepper. If you enjoy mashed potatoes, that’s probably the optimal food to use for this activity. However, feel free to select another favorite food that can be seasoned with salt and pepper. Let’s suppose you make a large batch of mashed potatoes. Request a friend or family member to prepare and label four samples of mashed potatoes. One sample should be plain mashed potatoes. The other samples should be seasoned with just salt, just pepper, and a combination of both salt and pepper. While blindfolded, taste each sample. Can you distinguish between the four samples? Which one do you prefer? By the conclusion of this uncomplicated activity, you should have the answer as to whether you prefer salt or pepper!

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