Take a look in your spice cabinet. You might see some oregano, garlic powder, paprika, or some chili flakes in there, but you definitely will see some salt and pepper, since they are staples in most everyone’s kitchens. The most common spices in anyone’s cabinet, salt and pepper may also be two of the most important spices, even going back in history. Early explorers traveled across oceans for salt because of its high value and multiple purposes, such as drying and preserving food before the time of refrigeration. In fact, the word salary is linked to the word salt in that the word’s origin derives from the money explorers would earn from the sale of salt.
Pepper comes from all over the world and has different properties based on its origin. Pepper is unique in the way in which the quantity that is used affects the flavor of your food. So, let’s take a look at three varieties of salt and three different kinds of pepper so you can get the most from these most traditionally used spices.
The three types of salt we will talk about are Kosher, sea, and pink Himalayan salt. Each of the three has distinct qualities that are recommended for different types of food. For example, because Kosher salt has a finely ground texture, it is used for seasoning soups, sauces, vinaigrettes, and also in baking. In these uses, Kosher salt dissolves for an even distribution of the seasoning. Kosher salt is known for being a “less salty” salt, so it is great for beginning chefs because there is more room for error when seasoning. Kosher salt is widely available in markets for a low price and should be a home cook’s go-to choice for salting foods.
One thing to note—Kosher salt is not the same as iodized salt and it is considerably better. Iodized salt can leave a chemically aftertaste and can taint your palate for future courses. So, steer clear of iodized salt and use a Kosher salt instead. Next, we have two salts with very specific uses. Sea salt and pink Himalayan salt have slightly different flavors than Kosher salt and are best used in certain ways. A common idea to keep in mind while choosing salts are “sea with sea" and "land with land,” meaning use sea salt with ingredients from the ocean and Himalayan salt with proteins from land. Sea salt is best used when seasoning fish, crab, lobster, and shellfish because the flavor of sea salt is slightly briny, which enhances the seafood’s natural flavor. Himalayan salt has a strong saltiness that is best used while grilling, roasting, or pan-frying steak, pork, or chicken. When you buy Himalayan salt, it may be pink, but the pigment is natural and does not affect the color or flavor of your dish. I would really recommend trying out some new salts based off of these guidelines, as they can bring out the flavors of your cooking and make your food have restaurant-quality taste.
Pepper is a tricky spice in that its varieties are not as readily available. Most often, you will see ground black pepper in a store, but there are much better options than that. Black pepper is the most universal pepper in that its slight nutty flavor along with its warm spice tastes great on almost anything. The cautionary note about black pepper is that is best purchased in the form of whole peppercorns. Pre-ground black peppercorns lose their potency as time goes on, and you will eventually have little to no flavor left in your ground pepper. Instead, buy whole peppercorns and fill a grinder, which you can buy online or in some home stores, or buy a pre-filled grinder.
The pre-filled grinders can be a bit more expensive, but it is still better than flavorless pepper. Black pepper tastes great on just about anything, especially grilled proteins and vegetables, so black pepper is a great go-to for anyone’s needs. Green and pink peppercorns have different flavors that can bring your cooking to the next level. Green peppercorns are the immature versions of black peppercorns and are sold either freeze-dried or packed in brine to preserve them. Green peppercorns are not as strong as black peppercorns, so they are best used in more delicately flavored foods, like fish filets or in salad dressings.
These peppercorns do have a short shelf life, though, so use freeze-dried peppercorns within a year and brined peppercorns within 4-6 months. Finally, pink peppercorns are the most unique form of peppercorn that we will look at today. Pink peppercorns are beautiful to look at, as their bright brink shells almost look like red currants, and they have a very different flavor than either green or black peppercorns. Pink peppercorns have a fruitier aroma to them and their spiciness is more like a mild chili pepper than a peppercorn. But, they have a strong flavor, so use them sparingly. Because pink peppercorns have a variety of flavors, they are great on chicken or fish with just a sprinkle of salt to bring out their natural flavors.
There are many more varieties of salt and pepper for the adventurous cook to experiment with, such as fleur de sel and white peppercorns. And, since each variety is best used in a certain way, investigate how to use your seasoning of choice to maximize its impact. By tailoring your use of salt and pepper to each dish, your cooking will rise to the next level. In fact, no one at the table will be saying, ‘please pass the salt and pepper.’
Emily is a 7th grader at Randolph Middle School. She began cooking at around age 7, and since that time has taken numerous cooking courses in New Jersey as well as Vermont. She is the founder of Mitzvah Meals from Emily’s Kitchen, a monthly, volunteer-based program that provides meals to members of her synagogue who are experiencing hardship.
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