When a recipe calls for black pepper, it can be easy to just reach for the jar of pre-ground pepper on your spice rack. And for some dishes, a fine dusting might just be perfect. But why do some recipes specify a certain black pepper grind size? Does it really make much difference?
Well, the short answer is: yes! Let’s take a look at why black pepper grind size matters and how you can get the most out of your seasonings.
Why is black pepper so flavorful?
Black peppercorns might be small, but they pack in a lot of flavor. Beneath the sun-dried skin is a core of heat just waiting to add a fiery kick to your dishes. However, there’s more depth to the flavor of black pepper than you might first think. While it does indeed add spice — the heat comes from a chemical compound called piperine — you’ll also find notes of pine and citrus.
Black peppercorns differ in flavor from other kinds of peppercorns, too. Although black, red, white and green peppercorns all start life as berries from the same plant, they are processed at different stages of ripeness. Black peppercorns are picked just before ripening, whereas red peppercorns are fully ripe.
One of the reasons black pepper has so much flavor is that it retains its skin. Unlike white peppercorns, which are soaked to remove the outer layer, black peppercorns dry in the sun until their skin turns black and wrinkly. This layer contains a lot of heat and aromas, leading to a complex and spicy flavor.
As well as having its own complex flavor profile, black pepper works in harmony with other herbs and spices to create a melody of notes that will make your taste buds sing! When paired with rosemary, for example, you may notice that black pepper’s pine notes are made more prominent. Cilantro, on the other hand, emphasizes those citrus flavors.
Why does everyone use black pepper?
Black pepper is one of the most popular spices. Used in dishes all around the world, it’s a staple of most kitchen cupboards. But why?
Well, perhaps one of the main reasons everyone loves black pepper is its versatility. It’s easy to use and adds fantastic depth, heat, and richness to everything from soups and stock to steak and stews.
Moreover, you can use black peppercorns whole, coarsely cracked or finely ground — and as you’ll see, each method will give you different results. Using an adjustable pepper mill gives you the flexibility to try out different grind sizes with just a simple twist.
Why does black pepper grind size matter?
Did you know that grinding black peppercorns can change the way the seasoning tastes? Larger pieces generally give a punchier burst, while a finer grind distributes the flavor more evenly throughout the dish.
The size of your pepper grind can also impact how fresh it stays and how long it lasts. As a general rule, the bigger the piece of peppercorn, the longer the flavor lasts in storage.
As well as impacting flavor, different black pepper grind sizes can add new textures to your dishes and transform the way food feels in your mouth.
Finely ground pepper may add some heat to certain dishes, but if you swap it for coarse ground or roughly cracked peppercorns, you’ll suddenly have a new element of crunch. And, of course, there may be times when you’d like a smoother mouthfeel, in which case coarsely ground pepper might seem out of place.
When to use different grind sizes
Wondering which black pepper grind size is best for your favorite cuisine? Read on! It’s worth noting that pepper grind coarseness is measured by the US ‘mesh size’, which stipulates how many holes are in a sieve! The more holes, the finer the grind.
Whole peppercorns (which measure 6 mesh) are a great way to give a big burst of flavor and aroma in one bite. Placing whole peppercorn berries into stocks, soups, and marinades can infuse the liquid with that peppery kick.
If whole peppercorns are a bit too chunky for your dish, cracked pepper is a great alternative. Made up of large pieces of broken peppercorns (8-10 mesh), this grind gives you a punch of flavor with each bite.
An excellent choice for garnishing soup or pasta dishes, cracked black pepper adds texture and a rustic appearance, too.
Coarse black pepper
Usually considered 12 on the mesh scale, coarse black pepper gives you relatively large pieces of pepper for a fiery kick, but you get the benefit of great flavor distribution, too. A great all-rounder, cracked black pepper pairs beautifully with most dishes. An adjustable pepper mill is a handy way to get this level of grind. If you use coarse black pepper in a lot of your cooking, you might like to consider an electric mill so you get the perfect grind at the push of a button.
Try a sprinkle on vegetable skewers or meat before barbecuing, or use it to garnish a salad. You can also add coarse black pepper to your roast before popping it in the oven — it’s sure to enhance the flavors.
Table ground pepper
This black pepper grind is most common in cafes and restaurants. At mesh size 18-28, it's finer than coarse pepper and allows you a milder, even sprinkling of flavor across your meal. You can use it to season at the table, top a corn on the cob, or add it to salad dressings.
Fine ground pepper
The most delicate grind size of the lot (30-36 mesh), fine ground black pepper offers a smooth, consistent, rich flavor. Because the particles are so small, they can blend into smooth, creamy soups and sauces when you want the flavor without the appearance of black flecks.
Using a pepper mill for the perfect grind
Black pepper grind size can transform your dishes, so it’s important to find the right level of coarseness. If you like to try recipes requiring different pepper grinds, an adjustable pepper mill is the ideal tool — why not explore the Cole and Mason salt and pepper collection? You can adapt the grind size with a quick twist to help you get the perfect balance of flavor, texture and spiciness.
Check out our range of Pepper refills here.