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What is a Pepper Mill?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Today, pepper is on tables everywhere, and even comes in little paper pouches from fast food restaurants. Who would believe that it used to be a sought-after spice, so rare that some cultures accepted it as currency? Pepper accounts for about 25 percent of the world's spice trade, and has been known as a seasoning for at least 3,000 years.

Pepper as we know it is the ground-up buds, or "berries," of the common pepper plant. Most people usually see ground black pepper in the familiar can, but whole peppercorns are also regaining popularity. When ground fresh, peppercorns have a much livelier flavor than pre-ground black pepper, and some chefs insist on a particular species of pepper for their food! However, to grind up pepper at the table, one needs a pepper mill.

A pepper mill may have a crank on top, or the mill itself may twist, bringing together two metal burrs that grind the peppercorns into a usable spice, suitable for cooking or for sprinkling on top of cooked food. The idea for the pepper mill came from the coffee mill. It was a quick step for the enterprising cook to use his coffee mill to grind peppercorns, rather than using a mortar and pestle. The pepper mill was then created in a smaller size, more suitable for the smaller peppercorns.

Someone looking for a pepper mill can find one almost anywhere. Kitchen supply stores, department stores, discount stores and even grocery stores sell some kind of pepper mill! One company sells its whole peppercorns complete with a plastic pepper mill included in the top of the bottle. Some companies sell handmade pepper mills made from exotic woods such as ebony or teak. Others are metal, glass, or heavy plastic.

One popular pepper mill has a salt shaker in the top, which twists to grind the pepper. Most pepper mills can be adjusted for a coarser or finer grind, depending on the cook's taste and the requirements of the dish. A pepper mill may cost anywhere from US$5 to over $100 for handmade mills. They are also widely available online, along with whole peppercorns.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Oct 31, 2012

I have one complaint with my pepper mill and that is it leaves a little bit of a mess in my cupboard. I keep my pepper mill in my cupboard when not in use, and it always seems like there are small particles of peppercorn under the mill when I pick it up. Other than that I really like using a pepper mill. I don't know if a pepper mill that was more expensive would do the same thing or not. Mine only cost about $20, but I know you can spend a lot more than that on some of the fancy ones.

By John57 — On Oct 30, 2012

I never realized that pepper was so popular that it was accepted as currency. It does seem like it is making somewhat of a come back as far as popularity, but I think many people still rely on too much salt when seasoning their food.

I have always loved the taste of pepper and season most all of my cooked food with it. I sprinkle pepper on eggs, meat, potatoes, salad and vegetables. I keep my pepper mill right on the table so I have easy access to it. I also like the restaurant pepper which has larger pepper flakes as opposed to the ground pepper. There is so much more flavor when you use large pepper flakes or peppercorns.

By myharley — On Oct 29, 2012

I have a glass salt and pepper mill that we use all the time, both for our every day meals and when we have company. The peppercorns are at the bottom and the salt is at the top, although the peppercorns are the only thing you grind.

You can shake the salt out from the top just like you would a regular salt shaker. We have been trying to eliminate most of the table salt from our diet, so I find that I refill the peppercorns much more often than I do the salt.

I buy the peppercorns in a large bottle at the grocery store where they sell the salt and pepper. Before using a pepper mill I had no idea there were so many different kinds and colors of peppercorns. I like buying a jar that has several of them mixed together.

By LisaLou — On Oct 29, 2012
@StarJo -- I have never used a battery operated pepper mill, but it sounds like it would be easy to use. I love using my pepper mill grinder, but you would be surprised how many people are not familiar with using one.

When I have company over I have my pepper mill sitting out on the table, and most people are just used to sprinkling group pepper from a shaker on their food. Some of them don't know what to do to season their food with the pepper mill. There really is a difference in taste when grinding your own peppercorns, and once you get used to it you don't want to use the finely ground pepper anymore.

By StarJo — On Sep 21, 2012

Has anyone here ever used a battery operated pepper mill? I have one, and it is so easy to use.

All I have to do is turn it upside-down to activate it. It automatically starts grinding.

It has a knob that lets me adjust the size of the grains. So, if I'm eating something that only needs a light sprinkling of pepper, I can adjust it for fine grains, but if I'm boiling something with pepper, I usually prefer the larger grains. This is because you really need to intensify the flavor when you are boiling something in water.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 21, 2012

@Kristee – They do smell rather strongly! I bought a pepper mill after I had to buy a bottle of peppercorns to use in a recipe. I didn't need to grind the ones for the recipe, but I figured that there was no reason to let the leftover peppercorns go to waste.

I got a neat looking wood pepper mill. It's made of beech wood, which is light in color.

By Kristee — On Sep 20, 2012

I have both salt and pepper mills. They are so easy to use. All I have to do is twist the top while holding it in the middle.

I can either continue twisting in the same direction, or I can twist it back and forth. Either way, it grinds up the sea salt and peppercorns.

Have you ever smelled peppercorns? They have such a powerful aroma!

By Perdido — On Sep 20, 2012

I had always used pepper that had already been ground up, but my husband introduced me to peppercorns. Now, I don't want to go back to the old kind!

We have a stainless steel pepper mill, and the pepper from it is so much more potent. A little goes a long way, and I love how fresh it is.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
Learn more
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