Have you ever wondered why we have salt and pepper on almost every table — from the crystal shakers on the tables of the fanciest 5 star restaurants down to the flat paper packs wrapped up with the napkin and spork in a box of fast food chicken?
More specifically — why pepper?
Salt is a natural. It not only brings out the flavors in almost every food but is as necessary to life itself as water.
But of all the spices in the world, why did we choose to pair salt with pepper?
Well, actually, for much the same reasons as salt.
The Universal Spice
Unlike salt (which is a mineral — the only “rock” that we eat), there really is no universal spice — nor are there any spices that are necessary for life. Just the good life. But I digress.
However, pepper comes very close to being universal.
Whereas chefs need to work and experiment very hard to get the right food pair with say cloves, cinnamon or ginger, the customer can take the pepper shaker and put a dusting over his or her entire plate and feel confident that it will still taste good — and probably better.
The Secret of Pepper’s Success
See that is the secret of pepper. Much like salt, it tends to make almost any food taste better. More like what you are expecting the food to taste like before you take a bite.
Other spices can’t do this. They change the taste of the food they are paired with — sometimes in wonderful, magical ways — but always changed. Think of the different taste of a donut and a cinnamon roll. Or coffee and coffee with nutmeg.
It is this quality that made pepper the first world-wide commodity.
Spice Trade in the Middle Ages
Pepper originated in the mountains of Southern India. when it was “discovered” by Europeans more than 2,000 years ago, it created the first world-wide trade and trade routes. Pepper moved through the Arab world to the Mediterranean to Europe through intricate routes sometimes changing hands as many as 100 times — doubling in price every time.
Didn’t matter. Europeans could not get enough of it and would pay any price. Pepper created the cities of Istanbul, Venice and Genoa amongst others and the world was explored looking for pepper and new, less expensive trade routes. What do you think Columbus was looking for? And pepper made Marco Polo’s father a very rich man.
Luckily for us, it is common and cheaper today. So shake it on anything and everything. It’s okay and delicious.
I hope you enjoyed those facts. I am AW Thomas and I love hot foods and spicy cooking.
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