There is not much thought given to the pepper mill or ground pepper shaker on the table. It is just a given that the pepper should be there if it is needed but as with the salt if the kitchen is doing its job properly the seasoning will be correct before a dish leaves the kitchen. You will not be trusted in some restaurants so neither salt nor pepper condiments will be left on the table just in case you decide to ruin a plate with a flick of the wrist that took days for a kitchen to produce.
In the spice world pepper is the big daddy and it has along and interesting story. We buy the end product whole, cracked or ground and its spicy flavour from its oil will increase your saliva stimulating the appetite and making the whole eating experience more satisfying. A lot happens before we get our hands on it and India, Cambodia, Madagascar, Tanzania and Sumatra are the pepper kings. Two varieties called Tellicherry from India and Kampot from Cambodia are the most revered and expensive.
There are other peppers that are not true pepper, just the black and white peppercorns are classified as the real thing and are coming from the one plant. Cayenne for example comes from the ground seeds of chilli peppers and allspice comes from an entirely different tree and species in the Caribbean that just happens to resemble pepper.
It has notes of several other combined flavours like clove and cinnamon and it was discovered much later on. Red or pink peppercorns from Brazil are from a different plant again and not actually a pepper either. The actual peppercorn tree sometimes grows on bigger trees like palm and mango as it needs support being a climber plant. The red berries are then picked and left to dry in the sun and as they ferment they turn black and this is what we use eventually.
Green ones are just the same berry but unripened and preserved in vinegar. For the white version the berries are left to ripen fully and when soft the outer skin is easily removed revealing the inner white seed and then these are dried. This was done so as not to speckle white or cream dishes or white meats. The white pepper has more heat in it but less flavour.
In ancient times pepper was actually a valued commodity like salt. The Romans and Greeks used them widely and later on in Europe it was even a currency too. With the opening up of the spice trail from the east, pepper was the main commodity in this trade. London had a Guild of Pepperers in the middle ages and pepper generally became essential for cooking right across society. These days the pepper industry is a multibillion dollar business centred in the Far East and the price you pay for it in the supermarket is a fraction of its cost in the past.
Cooking wise pepper is an essential ingredient so much so that when we say seasoning it really does encompass both salt and pepper. Some kitchens will make a salt and pepper mix so that you can just grab a convenient handful of it for big pots of soups or sauces or if you have to season a whole tray of steaks or fish for example. The ratio might be around four or five to one salt to pepper. Some chefs will not season steaks with pepper before cooking as the high heat of searing just ends up burning the pepper.
Pepper mills in the restaurant will let the waiter do a bit of drama table side but I prefer to do my own twisting if the dish needs it. Calorie wise, peppers are very low containing minimal fat and good vitamins and minerals with anti inflammatory effects and is also an antioxidant. The piperine compound that it is made of helps our brain health, aids allergies and assists other nutrients we consume to be absorbed. Pepper is a real boost for our body. If you want to improve your health then spice up your life.