Which Has More Holes, the Salt Shaker or the Pepper Shaker?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

It turns out that a debate over the proper combination of condiment and shaker has been raging for years, with no definitive answer in sight. Some say that tradition favors a salt shaker over a pepper shaker hole-wise, with many older sets featuring two pepper holes to four salt holes. Others make the ratio a little more balanced, with three holes for salt and two for pepper. In some countries, such as the UK, however, it is not unusual to find a salt shaker with only one hole and its pepper partner displaying four or more holes. Clearly, there is no universal standard at work here.

It is unclear if either the salt or pepper shaker has more holes, as there appears to be no standard pertaining to the holes.
It is unclear if either the salt or pepper shaker has more holes, as there appears to be no standard pertaining to the holes.

Some say that a salt shaker should have more holes because of its favored status as a spice. Many people tend to shake a great deal of salt on their food and only sprinkle a little pepper. Therefore, the salt shaker should have more holes in order to improve the flow, while a pepper shaker should do all right with fewer holes. Others say that it's not the number of holes that makes a difference, it's the size of said holes. Salt grains are thought to be larger than equivalent ground pepper flakes, so they should be put in a shaker with fewer, but larger, holes. Since ground pepper is lighter and dustier than salt, it requires more holes in order to flow out at a comparable rate.

A salt shaker.
A salt shaker.

As if this weren't enough fodder for the controversy cannon, there is the "too much salt is too much" argument. With a number of people who are already on, or perhaps should be on, low sodium diets, many argue that the salt shaker should contain the fewest holes in order to prevent overuse. Many people habitually shake the shaker without regard for the actual amount of salt escaping through the holes. Some conscientious family members have even been known to use superglue or other means to reduce the number of available holes. Pepper, on the other hand, is rarely subjected to these types of dietary restrictions, so it can be safely put in the shaker with the most holes.

Many restaurants use disposable pepper and salt sets in order to reduce the need for periodic cleanings, and these shakers do appear to favor salt over pepper, at least by a hole or two. Some shaker sets spell out the letters "S" and "P" to denote their contents, which appears to level the playing field considerably. Etiquette and household experts also disagree on the standard number of holes in shakers, leaving it up to a user's personal preferences. A number of food experts, however, recommend using a pepper mill in place of a shaker containing pepper of dubious freshness and quality. Some even suggest using a salt mill containing sea salt crystals instead of a shaker. While this method may not make an individual a hero at his local fast food joint or greasy spoon, it does provide an elegant answer to the shaker debate.

In short, if there are no other indications for the appropriate spice such as labels, initials or color cues, then people should feel free to put whichever spice they prefer in the shaker with the most holes. If they are not happy with the flow, then they can make a switch. As long the people who are using the shakers know which is which, then all should be right with the world, seasonally speaking.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


It makes a difference to people that are allergic to pepper! Oh I wish there was a norm, because I always worry which one to pick up. I love salt enough to compensate for my pepper allergy and wish that salt had 10 holes to load up my french fries!


i just watched my mother fill both shakers. salt was easy to fill and pepper she had to shake into the shaker. i would think this would lead to a four hole shaker being better for pepper (tougher to get out). salt pours easily and three may be all that is needed.


What difference could it possibly make!


What country is this from? I am a Canadian and had a fight with my hubby who is Australian and we are living in Oz. The pepper i know here is like powder. I am also a chef and been told salt is with 5 holes and pepper with 5 holes.

Now, in Aussieland that is impossible. The pepper is like powder while in Canada and USA is closer to fresh ground pepper. Smaller though. My hubby just says it's like the English -- that's his answer to everything. He could be right, yet the pepper still sucks! *smile* I seem to need more with the powder crap.


I believe that with the new salt and pepper shakers, the salt shaker is the one with 3 holes, while the pepper goes in the one with 2 holes. Salt is used more than pepper anyway.


Pepper should only ever be fresh ground at the table, meaning salt shakers win out. Preground pepper goes stale very fast, leaving it with a more dusty taste.


Please note that the salt grinders that come prefilled with sea salt are not iodized. --arkibty


Yes, I agree with anon8759. In the UK the salt shaker traditionally only has one hole due to the single heap of salt that was placed on the side of plate before eating. (Previous to this is came from little silver tubs with spoons).

My parents and grandparents always utilised this technique. Salt would also be added to the side of the plate before tasting as adding afterwards indicates that the cook (i.e. host) has not added enough. Salt would then be added on a mouthful-by-mouthful basis using the knife.


what a nice silly story!

I was taught that salt shakers should have the larger holes to accommodate the larger grains, but not necessarily more holes. Pepper shakers should have smaller holes and not too many, since overdoing the pepper is more destructive to the food than is the salt...i.e., the pepper burns.

I prefer fresh-ground pepper with a companion salter, and not too much of it, since salt is not too good for us, when overdone.

An artist, I never criticize salt and pepper containers...the art, the art... and the importance of good hospitality rules of kindness at the table, any table.


i think it's salty because of all the minerals because it is so big that more minerals are in it than fresh water


my salt shaker has 1 hole while my pepper shaker has 6. the holes are regular size but the salt is bigger. I also have another set that both have 13 holes the same size too. it's all about the company.


The aristocratic English never sprinkled their food with salt. They put a small heap of salt on the edge of their plates and while eating would prod the salt heap with a fork full of food and then eat it. Hence the British Aristocracy invented the salt cellar with one hole and the rest of the World has been wondering what to do with it ever since! This is not as strange as one might first think because they also invented the fish knife and fork and also the ''shooting stick''. Please ask wisegeek what he knows about the shooting stick.

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