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What's so special about pepper?

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I understand the significance of salt. It's effect in enhancing the flavour of almost any dish, sweets included, is unparalleled.

But what's so special about pepper? When did it earn it's place alongside the salt shaker as a permanent instalment on the kitchen table? Are there subtleties to the art of applying pepper to a dish that I haven't yet come to understand?

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  1. Are there subtleties to the art of applying pepper to a dish that I haven't yet come to understand?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~
    size of grind; freshness/age of peppercorns; color (black, green, white, red, pink); country of origin; plant variety...all make a difference.

    some info here if you're in the mood for a little reading:
    http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodh...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_pe...

    1. It's the backbone of American cooking. I think of it like salt, air and water--things we take completely for granted but life would totally suck without them.

      1. I have a friend who grew up in "the heartland." His mom had salt and pepper. No other spices except the cinnamon and nutmeg that she kept for holiday baking. When recipes say season to taste, those are the two seasonings they mean - S&P

        1. "Are there subtleties to the art of applying pepper to a dish that I haven't yet come to understand?"

          Like a lot of spices and herbs, using them during cooking and after will give different results.

          In the case of black pepper, using it at cooking time, will give an earthy tone to a dish and the "peppery" will be subdued. using fresh ground/cracked pepper when serving a dish, will give a more intense flavour and taste.

          It's a lot of trial and errors to find out how much you "feel" it or not ( for me it's bay leaves).
          I don't use black pepper that much, sometimes, only as a Pavlovian reaction when doing a recipe (pinch of salt, couple of screws of the pepper grinder...)

          Black Pepper has a long history, once was very expensive and seen as a sign of wealth and power.

          M.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Maximilien

            "Black Pepper has a long history, once was very expensive and seen as a sign of wealth and power."

            Ahh right ok ok, that's gotta be a piece of the puzzle hey. As far as peppers first being placed along-side salt, I could understand it being more of a status symbol thing than a matter of flavor. Don't get me wrong, pepper is a really valuable ingredient in the kitchen and I use it often but why not chilli powder or cinnamon you know?

            Good tips on adding pepper at beginning vs end of cooking time

          2. i think it's the history of the spice trade. pepper was one of the main driving forces - why do you think colombus named capsicum "pepper"? - it's what he was looking for (and by clever marketing he found "it" even though it was a different "it")

            1. chili powder didn't come along till much later when the new world was discovered. Until that happened black pepper was one of the best ways to 'kick it up a notch." Good fresh black pepper really has a wonderful flavor.