Pepper grinders have one task, and that is to grind whole peppercorns into palatable grounds to be used for seasoning food. Peppercorns contain volatile compounds that release flavorful aromas once these compounds are introduced to air. Upon grinding, the newly-released essential oils will begin to oxidize over time, and their potency will begin to deteriorate. Using pre-ground pepper won’t have the same pungent affect as freshly ground. The use of a grinder increases the longevity of the pepper by keeping it intact until the moment of need, and ensures you’re extracting the most flavor from your spices.
The original grinders replaced the mortar & pestle as the prime way to grind spices, because of their speed and efficiency. Currently, there are many designs of pepper grinders, but most will employ a hopper that uses gravity to feed peppercorns into the grinding mechanism. Once the grinding mechanism is activated, peppercorns get crushed between two conical mills, and the fresh grounds continue to fall either out of the bottom of the mill or into a catch.
The actual grinding mechanism is the true star of the show. They can be made from different materials, and have different methods of operation. The classic design utilizes hardened steel to grind the peppercorns against two sets of abrasive grinding teeth. The coarseness of the grind is adjusted by the distance between these grinding burrs. If the grinding teeth are set closer together it produces a finer grind, as opposed to large coarse grounds falling through if they’re set further apart. Ceramic is a newer material being used, and it’s fantastic for grinding a variety of spices due to its noncorrosive nature. A note on that; do not use a grinder with a steel mechanism for salt or spices that may contain trace amounts of water, due to it potentially corroding the mechanism: the last thing you want is rust showing up in your food.
Method of operation is typically of a manual nature. Most grinders either have a handle or crank mechanism built into their top, to engage the grinding plates through rotation. Because of the small amounts of pepper needed to season your food properly, I don’t necessarily see the need for a battery operated grinder, but it’s certainly an option out there for those in need. I personally enjoy the ritual of grabbing a grinder and turning it myself; I believe that I have a better feel for how much pepper I’m using while seasoning to taste.
The size of the grinder should also be taken into thought, not only from a handling aspect, but also from a volume capacity consideration. A balance needs to be struck between it holding enough peppercorns to use before they go stale sitting on the counter, and that of not having to refill your grinder annoyingly often. A common design of varying lengths are the cylindrical grinders; where the peppercorns rest in the middle of the body, adjustment & operation are handled from a crank mechanism at the top, and the grinding plates are found near the bottom where the ground pepper fall out onto the food you’re hovering over.
This particular model is a Peugeot Olivier Roellinger. It’s made in France, and designed after Peugeot’s original coffee mills from the mid 19th century. Made from handsome beechwood and stainless steel, this model utilizes a boat winch styled crank with adjustable thumbwheel for grind size. Hardened steel grinding teeth produce perfectly even grounds that fall elegantly into the pull-out catch. This little box of mechanical refinement makes a statement on any dining table.
Pepper is used throughout the world, and is universally applied to most western savory recipes. For something used in almost every meal, why wouldn’t you utilize whole peppercorns? Keeping them intact whole spreads out their longevity, and you’re more likely to use less than pre-ground because of their increased potency. Opt for a quality peppercorn grinder that works for your needs, and it’ll fill your kitchen with wonderful pungency for a lifetime.