Someone I know posted an article online the other day along with an interesting statement. She said that she thinks that black pepper is overused in cooking, and that it often doesn't really enhance the foods that we automatically sprinkle it on. The article was written by someone who quit using pepper in their cooking years ago. She (the author) hadn't decided to quit using pepper; her pepper mill just quit working. She noticed that her foods began to taste better without the pepper, and then quit using it in her cooking.
When I decided to comment, I hadn't yet read the article. I fall more firmly into the salt camp as far as favored basic seasonings. There were some commenters to my friend's post that were vehemently pro-black-pepper. And some for whom that last sentence would be a gross understatement. There were others who were also bigger fans of salt than pepper.
I don't think that any of us were anti-pepper, it was just that we agreed it was routinely overused. How many recipes have you seen that instruct you to "add salt and pepper to taste"? Mashed potatoes? Add salt and pepper. Salad? Ditto. Just about every recipe you read except desserts will include that instruction. And with the trend toward savory desserts, even those recipes aren't all free from pepper!
Here's my problem with pepper - it can be like a person who thinks they're irresistible. It can come on too strong. Pepper, with its volatile oils, has a distinctly strong flavor. Instead of enhancing the taste of some foods, it can overpower it. Salt, in my opinion, is more likely to improve the flavors of many foods, whether they are robust or delicate. And you won't ever catch me eating popcorn without it! I am also a fan of different varieties of salt. I have Himalayan Pink, both ground and in a grinder, and Hawaaiian Red. My kitchen also houses Black Cyprus salt that looks like little black pyramids, Fleur de Sel, Chocolate salt, Bacon salt, Lime Salt, and Murray River salt from salt deposits in Australia, to name a few.
One commenter said something to the effect that salt kills and pepper heals, a statement with which I must respectfully disagree. Pepper, with such a strong, hot, or bitter flavor, can be too much for may people. And life without salt is impossible. Both humans and animals are drawn to it because it is necessary for their well-being. When my guardian Bill had horses and cattle on his land, there were always salt licks for the animals.
In many eras of human history, salt was valuable enough to be a form of currency or exchange. Even the ancient Roman legions couldn't function without salt. In addition to their ration of food and drink, they were paid in salt. In the non-coastal regions, it was precious enough to be a wage, and the word for salt evolved into the word salary. Litle wonder, then, that we have sayings about being worth one's salt - if we are competent at what we do, we are worthy of our salary, our salt. Pretty amazing for something we can now buy easily at a market, isn't it?
In the end, it's all a matter of personal preference, or perhaps I should say taste. My favorite of the two is salt, and I use it far more, but there are dishes that simply aren't as perky without that zing of black pepper. It comes down to loving the flavor of your food. Whether you favor one over the other doesn't matter as much as making food that will make you happy. So shake or grind or sprinkle - and enoy! Bon appetit!
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