FINDING THE RIGHT SALT AND PEPPER GRINDER
Once upon a time in France – as so many stories involving food begin – chefs and cooks would dedicate large parts of their day hunched over a mortar while grinding away at a handful of peppercorns with a pestle. Such was their lot, and many accepted it as such, some even relished the “alone time” for reflection or catching up on gossip, but as the grip of industrial age firmed around such time-consuming acts of manual labour, this ritual’s days were numbered. In 1842, Peugeot, which had hitherto been a steel foundry turned kitchen tool company, came up with what is arguably one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time: the pepper grinder. (Fun fact: Peugeot salt and pepper grinders appeared on every table at Restaurant JAN until a Michelin inspector said we didn’t need them.) Since then, the pepper grinder has evolved a great deal – even spawning the salt grinder – which means that choosing the right salt and pepper grinder for you is one of the trickiest decisions you can make.
But first, let’s talk about why the grinder is so important. If you take flavour seriously as a cook, you simply cannot rely on pre-ground pepper to give you the intensity of flavour you’re looking for. Once ground, pepper loses its flavour with every passing hour. In fact, within three months, ground pepper will have lost most of its flavour.
Salt, on the other hand, comes in thousands of varieties, ranging from Maldon, Fleur de Sel and Sel gris, to Himalayan and Kalahari Desert salt. The courser the salt, the more use you have for a grinder, which is why Kalahari salt – usually sold as course rock crystals – often comes in a grinder. When choosing the right grinder for a range of needs, consider these three things:
We live in an exciting age of robotics and self-driving cars, and while no one has seen the need for an AI-operated pepper grinder, you do get electronic grinders, whose popularity have skyrocketed over the last decade. Gone are the days of hunching over a scorching braai fire trying not to burn off all your arm hairs. With an electric grinder, you simply point it in the right direction, press the button and hold until you’re happy. Plus, it grinds at a much faster rate than a manually operated one. The only drawback is that electric grinders generate heat, which may alter the taste of the salt or pepper. And if you’re going for classic, few electronic grinders look the part.
In finding “the one”, there’s a wide variety of materials to work with. Including zinc alloys, ceramic or acrylics. While stainless steel is often favoured for its durability, it’s not as resistant to corrosion as other materials, which is why zinc alloy is often used instead. But the reason why ceramic grinders are so popular with chefs is because of its ability to grind a wide variety of things, like salt, pepper and even coffee beans.
When it comes to finding your perfect salt or pepper grinder, most of us opt for convenience at the right price, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s functionality and material to consider, of course, but over and above that – considering the importance of this tool and its role in your household – the decision is also guided by aesthetics. While many of us opt for acrylic grinders, they’re less durable than their metal and ceramic counterparts, and if nothing else, have a tendency to look and feel cheap, so if your aim is to find a keeper, perhaps bypass the plastic.