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When to Use Black Pepper

Salt and Pepper: You're Doing It Wrong

While salt or a salty ingredient like soy sauce or miso paste should be included in nearly every recipe (even dessert!), its tablemate, black pepper, is a more complicated matter.

First, let's go over why salt is such an important seasoning. We're primed to enjoy its flavor (saltiness is one of the four basic tastes, after all), as our bodies need it to function. In moderate amounts, salt enhances and balances other flavors — especially bitter notes — without necessarily making the dish taste salty. In a nutshell: the judicious use of salt is a large part of what distinguishes good food from just OK food.

Now here's the rub: pepper doesn't share these same qualities. While the two are often paired together on the table and in the same line of a recipe's ingredient list and instructions, we strongly believe that pepper shouldn't be as commonly used as salt is. Pepper's piquant flavor might play better with a variety of flavors than spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin, but it's important to remember that it is just that: a spice. It certainly has a place in dishes that can stand up to its bold flavor, like a caesar salad, a meaty steak, a bowl of pasta, or even a spice cookie, but its strong flavor is not universally flattering and can often overpower more delicate notes of a dish.

The takeaway: instead of blindly following a recipe's instruction to season to taste with salt and pepper, consider first: will pepper's sharp flavor accentuate this dish, or is it called for out of habit?

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