Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
A spice grinder, or pepper grinder, is a kitchen tool designed to grind fresh pepper as it is needed from whole peppercorns. Pepper grinders come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be made from wood, metal, glass, plastic, or ceramic depending on aesthetic. Many households keep pepper grinders for the superior flavor of fresh pepper, as do fine dining establishments. Home supply stores carry a selection of pepper grinders ranging from basic practical models to elaborate ornamental ones which decorate while also serving a function.
Pepper comes from a vine which goes by the Latin name of Piper nigrum and is native to Southern India. After the plant flowers, it produces small fruits which can be dried and used for culinary purposes. These fruits are known as peppercorns, and they have long been prized to season and spice foods. Cultivated in India for centuries, the pepper plant was popular with visitors as well, once they realized the flavor potential that pepper held. Originally, cooks used a mortar and pestle to grind pepper, but around the fourteenth century, the pepper grinder first appeared, making the job much easier.
A pepper grinder is hollowed so that peppercorns can be stored in it. At the bottom of the grinder, several sharp blades are positioned, and attached to a rod which is generally linked with the top of the grinder. When the top is turned, it turns the rod, which causes the blades to move. The pepper is drawn into the blades and small chunks of the peppercorns are shaved off and emerge from the bottom of the pepper grinder. When enough pepper has been ground, the cook stops turning the top, saving the rest of the whole peppercorns for another meal.
All spices taste better when they are freshly ground, because allowing them to remain whole until needed prevents them from oxidizing and losing flavor and aroma. For this reason, many cooks maintain a spice grinder in the kitchen to work with cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and other aromatic and flavorful spices. Because pepper is used so frequently, maintaining a separate pepper grinder is an excellent idea, and it also allows the cook to set it out on the table for guests to add pepper to their food, if they deem it necessary. By grinding only as much as the cook needs, a pepper grinder assures fresh, zesty flavor, and means that less of the spice needs to be used overall.
When seeking out a pepper grinder, look for a sturdy one with sharp, well made blades. Make sure that all of the pieces of the pepper grinder fit together well, as small misalignments will result in a loss of efficiency. Try to get a pepper grinder which is as airtight as possible to ensure freshness, and you may want to consider getting a combination salt and pepper grinder which allows you to shake salt, for convenience.
Remember when anything but a typical set of salt and pepper shakers was uncommon in a home? Times have changed and spotting pepper and sea salt grinders has almost become the norm.
Spice manufacturers know this and often offer pepper in whole kernels with a grinder built into the package. Convenient.
Once you've had fresh ground pepper, you will want a pepper grinder. The stuff that comes already ground tastes like pencil shavings compared to the "bite" and aromatic flavor given off by ground pepper.
Plus, there are a lot more varieties of pepper to choose from when you decide to grind your own. One box of pre-ground, black pepper is often the same as the next one, but you can get an almost limitless number of blends made for a pepper grinder.
One of our editors will review your suggestion and make changes if warranted. Note that depending on the number of suggestions we receive, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Thank you for helping to improve wiseGEEK!