PepperMate's Brief History of Pepper Mills

Pepper mills, sometimes referred to as pepper grinders, are a common kitchen accessory designed to grind peppercorns into a fine powder used to season foods. Many of us probably have a pepper mill sitting in our kitchen right now! Yes, that's very true.

History of the Pepper Mill

The pepper grinder was invented by Peugeot of France in 1842. Earlier versions of pepper mills were based on a mortar and pestle design. The pepper grinder allowed for a less labor intensive way to crack the peppercorns. The pepper grinder invented by Peugeot was constructed of metal and the individual grooves inside the casing were virtually indestructible. You may really want to see it.

Pepper Mill Construction

Peppermills can be made from a variety of different materials including steel, zinc alloy, ceramic or even acrylic. Stainless steel models are durable and crack resistant making it an excellent choice for a device that requires a fair amount of continuous pressure. Stainless steel in the number one choice for professional chefs and home chefs alike. Zinc alloy is also a popular choice because of its ability to resist corrosion. Zinc alloy is a composite material made up of a mixture of chrome plating, zinc and assorted metals. Ceramic peppermills are popular because a chef can use them to grind multiple things. Salt, pepper and even coffee can be ground in a ceramic model. Another popular choice is acrylic. It is durable and cost effective. While not as aesthetically pleasing as stainless steel or even ceramic, it get the job done!

See some our World Famous Pepper Grinders.

Electric Peppermills

Peppermills can also be electronic. An electric motor powered by battery or from an electricity source, grinds the peppercorn completely eliminating the need for manual operation. Electric grinders grind peppercorns much faster than manual models. A drawback to the electric model is that some heat is generated by the high amount of friction which can affect the taste and performance of the peppercorns.

Benefits of Freshly Ground Pepper versus store bought pepper

Pepper is almost always better when it is freshly ground. As soon as peppercorns are ground up they begin to lose some of their flavor and intensity. Within a period of about three months, pepper shows a marked difference in quality. Something to consider is that while pepper you buy from a store may have been placed on the shelf within the last week, the chances are that the peppercorns used in the manufacturing process were harvested many months before they were actually ground and packaged. This fact added to the time it takes to process the peppercorns means that the pepper you sprinkle into that pot of chili has been slowly degraded over a period of months. Professional chefs will almost always choose freshly ground pepper over any sort of pre-ground pepper.

Measuring Freshly Ground Pepper

When you look at a recipe in a book you will often see that many common recipes call for freshly ground black pepper. Unfortunately they do not always specify the exact amount. You may be told to simply “sprinkle” some freshly ground pepper or even “generously season” a piece of meat with pepper. What exactly does that mean?

Most home cooks would agree that when it comes to pepper, they are not pulling out a measuring cup or measuring spoons to determine the amount of pepper to use in a recipe. Using salt and pepper in a recipe is one of those things that most people just kind of leave up to chance. But you may be depriving yourself and the folks you are feeding by not putting enough seasoning into your dishes, or on the other hand, adding too much. Measurements like “sprinkle” don’t exactly help! The taste test doesn’t always work either. If you are cooking with raw eggs or meat, it’s not a good idea to taste your recipe before it I fully cooked.

A really easy way to measure the amount of ground pepper in a recipe is to count the number of rotations used. Try grinding out one or two rotations into to a bowl and measuring the output. For example, if five turns of the grinder equals one teaspoon, you will know that’s the amount you are adding. You can, in turn, experiment with your recipes so that you know exactly how spicy your casserole should be and then add the pepper accordingly.

Types of Peppercorns

Pepper is served at nearly every table on the planet. It may surprise you to know, however, that there are a wide variety of peppers out there, each one with own distinctive flavor.

Black Peppercorns  - are the most recognizable. They are actually a dried berry and happen to be the most flavorful and aromatic. The berries are harvested just before they are ripe and are traditionally laid in the sun to dry out. When the dried hull is cracked the flavor released is strong which is why chefs prefer this pepper above most others.

Tellicherry peppers  - are another popular type of peppercorn. It is the oldest known source for what we call “black pepper.” Its name comes from the region it is harvested in, India, and it has a complex flavor. It is darker than most other peppercorns and was actually used as form of currency in ancient times!

Green peppercorns  - are another popular option for chefs ad home cooks alike. Green peppercorn berries are picked well before they are ripe and then the berry is freeze-dried in most cases. The texture of these peppercorns is smooth and the taste is much milder than black peppercorns. Green peppercorns have a tart flavor that disappears quickly after the hull is cracked. Green pepper is best served freshly ground to preserve the flavor.

White pepper  - is not as well known in the United States as it is in Europe. While pepper is derived from fully matured berries and the hull is removed. The remaining berry is sun dried and as it is dried it becomes the distinctive pale color. White pepper is sold as either whole or ground and is one of the main ingredients in fish sauces and creamy soups.