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We keep them on our table everyday, and we can’t possibly imagine a life of cooking without them, but do we actually know everything about them? It might seem obvious—I mean, how much simpler does it get than salt and pepper, right? Well, not so fast. Between all the various categories of salt and the huge difference between freshly ground black pepper versus pre-ground, there are plenty of little information tidbits about these common table seasonings that you ought to know for an overall better S&P experience. Sure, they might be black and white, but all the details surrounding them surely aren’t.

Not All Salts Are Created Equal

Hopefully this isn’t breaking news to you, but the ingredient, “salt,” is a fairly ambiguous one. There’s kosher salt, table salt, fine sea salt, flaky salt, fleur de sel, and the list goes on—if you’re a little intimidated, don’t worry, I am too. Without overcomplicating things and getting too caught up in all the different varieties, it’s important to acknowledge that all of these salts are made of sodium chloride (woo hoo science!). However, they have different sizes, textures, tastes, purposes, and ideal applications for best results. For the average home cook, a lot of these salts probably won’t come into play too frequently besides the main cooking salts which are kosher, table, and perhaps fine sea.

Morton vs. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Not going to lie, I learned something pretty crazy recently—even though Morton and Diamond Crystal both offer a kosher salt, these salts are far from the same product. Morton kosher salt is almost twice as salty as Diamond Crystal which means that if you even think about trying to use these interchangeably, you could very easily botch a recipe. It’s important to know your ingredients because a pinch of one salt could change the flavor of your food in a drastically different way than a pinch of the next salt.

Watch Now: Salts 101

Timing is Key

When you salt your food and which salt you use at that point in the process is crucial. Kosher salt is intended for cooking—it’s coarse and dissolves readily, making it a great addition when you’ve got your veggies and aromatics cooking down on the stove or you’re boiling pasta water. There are also finishing salts, like flaky sea salt, pink himalayan salt, and fleur de sel. These are typically more expensive (read: they make for great gifts) and are valued because of their delicate, light, crunchy textures. Therefore, adding a pinch of Maldon flaky salt to the pan while you’re scrambling eggs somewhat defeats the purpose of its sought-after properties. Wait until your dish is finished (hence, the name), and give it your best Salt Bae.

Your Taste Buds Are Your Best Measuring Device for Salt

This rule applies moreso to cooking than baking, but it’s one that I live by. Even though recipes typically provide a measurement for how much salt to add, there’s nothing like falling back on the ol’ taste buds. Once you get accustomed to your cooking salt of choice, you’ll have a better idea of just how much you need to make your food taste just the way you like it. Any chef will tell you that one of the home cook’s most common mistakes is that they don’t salt enough, so be sure to continue to taste your food as your cooking, and give it the TLS (tender, love, and salt) that it needs. Plus, you know how you like your food better than any recipe does, so go ahead and add as much or as little as you like.

Freshly Ground Black Pepper is a Must

Have you ever noticed that recipes (well, good ones, anyway…) call for “freshly ground black pepper,” instead of just “black pepper.” That’s not a suggestion, it’s a must. When spices are ground, their shelf-life is much shorter than when they’re still whole. That means that the pre-ground stuff that you’re buying and sprinkling on your food is lacking in flavor, big-time, compared to if you were cracking the peppercorns right before it hits your food.

Pepper Mills are Worth the Investment

Now that you you’re sold on always using freshly ground pepper, the first place to start in this new life of proper seasoning is a pepper mill. Different pepper mills offer different capabilities as far as how fine or coarse you want to grind the peppercorns. Also, something to keep in mind when you’re picking one out is that even though the fancy, opaque ones might look cooler, if the body of the grinder isn’t translucent, it’s going to be a real pain in the a** to figure out when your grinder is out of peppercorns. #Just #Saying. If you prefer, you can opt to grind your peppercorns in bulk using a coffee grinder and keep a pinch bowl beside your work station instead. When you’re done with the coffee grinder, run some uncooked rice through it so that your next cup of java doesn’t have a peppery kick.

Which Peppercorn is Best?

Obviously, most home pepper mills are filled with black peppercorns. However, there are other varieties, which are all derived from the same peppercorn plant species as their black counterparts, including white, pink, and green. They all offer slightly different levels of peppery intensity and flavor. Of course, if you’re new to the pepper mill lifestyle, start with black peppercorns, and branch out later if you’re feeling adventurous. Regardless, you’ll still be out here grindin.’

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane