You’ve definitely heard of pepper, and you’ve definitely heard pretty much every chef ever, on every cooking show ever, recommending freshly ground black pepper. But did anyone stop to explain why fresh pepper is better ?
And did anyone discuss the merits of pre-ground pepper ? After all, it’s on the market for a reason. Well, today we’re going to look at whether freshly ground black pepper really is better.
Is freshly ground pepper better ?
Yes, freshly ground pepper is better than pre-ground as it’s much spicier, has all its flavor intact, and provides a very satisfactory crunch. There are merits for pre-ground pepper, as it’s easier to use and comes very finely milled.
But in terms of taste, fresh black pepper offers more. More pungency, more fruity notes, slightly musky and is definitely much stronger-tasting.
Piperine and flavor evaporate quickly
The trouble with pre-ground pepper is that it evaporates very, very quickly. You see, pepper contains piperine, a compound that gives it its signature heat and flavor. This piperine is great, but like everything spice related, it evaporates once the peppercorn is cracked.
This means that the only good pre-ground pepper is the fresh kind, immediately after being packed. And as you know, spice packets are often lacking, and the resealable kind are a bit of a joke. Definitely much better than the plain paper ones, but still.
Now let’s take a look at most restaurant pepper shakers. Yes, they’re shakers, not mills. This means the ground pepper just sits there day in, day out, evaporating its goodness through those little holes at the top. By the end of the week you’re only sprinkling gray dust on your food.
Read also: Why Is Black Pepper So Common ?
How long does pepper last ?
Pepper lasts a surprisingly long time when it’s whole, dried, and well packed. It can go up to 3 years, provided it’s kept in an airtight container with no extra moisture or direct sunlight or heat. Three years !
Once you crack it though… you’ve got a week, tops. Maybe less, depending on how you’re storing the ground pepper. And remember, the finer the grind the more surface area is exposed to oxidation.
So our very earnest recommendation is to invest in a pepper mill. You can use it for all spices, actually, not just pepper. They’re around $8, the kind with peppercorns already inside. And really, a whole bottle of peppercorns can last you half a year, depending on how you use it.
How to crack pepper without a pepper mill
What if you’re thinking you’d like to try freshly ground pepper, before you spring for a spice mill ? Take a look at the following ideas, we’re sure you can find something that suits you.
And then, after you’ve tried fresh pepper and noticed the dramatic difference in taste, we’re sure a pepper mill will be on your shopping list.
Read also: Is Black Pepper A Nightshade ?
Mortar and pestle
If you’ve got a mortar and pestle at home, then you can try that. Whether it’s a spice mill or a blender or a pestle, the point is to break the peppercorn open and reduce it to a fairly small size.
With a mortar and pestle you’ve definitely got good control over the size and consistency of the pepper, and the smell will be divine.
Metal spoon and a paper towel
Okay, if you’re fresh out of mortars and just can’t find a pestle. we recommend a more basic approach. Get a metal spoon, one with a really tough, sturdy handle. We don’t need the one that can easily bend now, we’re relying on it being sturdy.
Get a paper towel, just one square, place it over a hard surface. Add as many peppercorns as you need, but know this works best with less corns. Now put the back of the spoon on the peppercorns and press, hard. The point is to crack and break them.
They will roll around a bit, which is why we recommend a paper towel as it will mostly keep them in place. But once you manage to break a few, they will stop the others and you’ll eventually manage to crack all of them.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep them all in one place, simply for the paper over the peppercorns and crack them through the towel at first.
You won’t get a very fine size with this method, but it will definitely showcase the amazing smell and flavor.
Small ziploc bag and a rolling pin
If you want even more control, get a small ziploc bag and a rolling pin or a glass bottle, both will work. The bag should be ziploc or any other thicker kind of plastic, so it won’t rip open from being hit or the peppercorns’ edges.
Roll the pin or bottle over the peppers and they should break open very easily. This method provides more control over grind size.
Best pepper and spice combinations
Pepper goes with many spices, really, but there are some combinations that go with it real well. For example pepper with fresh peppermint leaves go very well. It’s not the menthol that helps, as it’s fairly light in fresh peppermint. It’s the fresh, green, herb flavor that pairs so well with pepper. The same can be applied to fresh sage and basil.
Another nice combination is pepper and lemon, at least lemon zest if not zest and juice. It’s the acid in the lemon juice that brings out piperine even more, both in terms of heat and in terms of flavor.
Pepper also works great with fall spices, just make sure you only add a little. Cinnamon and ginger are spicy in their own way, you don’t want to add more than a small kick with pepper.
It also works well with chocolate for some folks. This means you can sneak in a small bit of pepper in some brownies, if you’re feeling experimental.
And that’s pretty much it about black pepper. Now you know why fresh pepper is superior to pre-ground, and maybe you’ll give it a try. Whether you get yourself a pepper mill or crack a few peppercorns at home, do give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed !