Differences between a salt mill and a pepper mill

Salt and pepper: the dream team. The faithful duo who add the finishing touch to any meal. Salt and pepper mills are a great way of getting the most out of your seasonings. For the tastiest flavors and textures, freshly ground salt and pepper has more of an impact than pre-ground.

But when it comes to the grind, will any old mill do? Although salt and pepper grinders may look the same, there are important differences that can affect your seasoning’s end result.

Are salt and pepper mills the same?

Salt and pepper mills are both used to grind coarse ingredients so you can sprinkle them over dishes. Manual salt and pepper grinders use a twist motion that causes blades to break down the seasoning into smaller pieces. Electronic mills grind spices at the push of a button.

Though the body of the mills may look similar (or identical), not all salt and pepper grinders are exactly the same — they can contain different mechanisms.

The main difference is the grinding mechanism’s material. However, they can also have different shapes.

At Cole & Mason, we use ceramic mechanisms for salt and carbon steel Precision+ mechanisms for pepper, so they are not interchangeable. We used our 100 years of expertise to create the most efficient mechanisms using some of the best materials available, which are specialized to grind either salt or pepper.

For the most versatility, try adjustable salt and pepper mills, like those in Derwent Collection. Whether you’re seasoning a sauce with a delicate pepper dusting or spicing up a steak with a rustic crust of cracked peppercorns, our mills will have you covered.

Salt mill salt mill showing its ceramic mechanism from underneath

Salt is the ultimate flavor-enhancer. From lashings of table salt over chips to a crunchy rock salt salad garnish, a salt mill is the ideal tool for highlighting sweet and savory nuances.

Salt mill grinding mechanisms tend to be made of ceramic or nylon. Naturally oxidized, ceramic can’t be corroded or rusted by salt. Nylon grinding mechanisms are also rust-resistant and are best suited to sea salt, which is softer and flakier than rock salt, but they can degrade over time.

Occasionally, you'll find stainless steel salt grinder mechanisms. However, those constructed from steel contain a small percentage of nickel and chromium to create a protective layer and prevent corrosion.

Our salt mills and Cole & Mason are made from white alumina ceramic, which is one of the hardest materials known to man. Non-wearing and anti-corrosive, we designed it for impeccably high precision and sharp grinding profiles. You get even grinding and consistent sharpness with zero degradation; we have a lifetime guarantee on all our mills.

Pepper mill pepper mill showing its carbon steel mechanism from underneath

Freshly ground pepper is the perfect way to add a kick to your dishes. Pre-ground is convenient, but using a pepper mill gives you control over the consistency and ensures your recipe is bursting with flavor and aroma.

A pepper mill strips the crushes and strips the peppercorns, bringing out natural oils & releasing more flavor and aroma.

Often, the mechanisms in pepper mills are made from carbon steel. Strong and durable, this metal can withstand hard peppercorns. Carbon steel also prevents metal from being ground along with the peppercorns.

Our Classic range of pepper mills use our incredibly strong alumina ceramic. The Precision+ and Gourmet Precision+ ranges, however, use metal. The machine-cut carbon steel in these pepper grinders have surface plating for even more corrosion resistance. The ultra-sharp mechanism differs slightly from many other pepper mills; delivering superior output, consistency and flavor.

Crushing immediately releases large quantities of pepperin oil - which imparts the pepper aroma and taste. As soon as pepper is crushed, the pepperin oil starts to lose potency. The finer the grind, the more intense the flavor. The coarser the grind, the longer the pepper flavor will last. The pepperin is released when the pepper is heated or eaten, so you get the most intense flavor when you need it most.

Can you grind pepper in a salt grinder?

Although they do similar jobs and look alike from the outside, salt and pepper grinders are not always fully interchangeable.

Whether or not you can use your salt mill to grind pepper depends on the material. Peppercorns are tough little things. The mechanisms in a salt mill are designed to break down large salt granules into finer pieces. However, salt is softer and more brittle than peppercorns, and nylon salt grinders are not quite hard enough to crack through pepper. Ceramic salt grinders, however, are more robust and can be used to grind pepper.

The mechanism in our Cole & Mason mills are interchangeable, so you can grind salt and pepper in both. Our Classic range uses the same ceramic mechanism, whereas our Precision+ and Gourmet Precision+ pepper mills use our toughened carbon steel for effortless grinding. The salt mills in these premium collections use the diamond-sharp alumina ceramic.

Can you grind salt in a pepper grinder?

Salt can corrode the carbon steel on a pepper grinder’s teeth, reducing its efficiency. Rust and corrosion can often result in clumps of salt that stick to metal and make a mess. So with traditional designs, it’s generally advised to stick with grinding salt in a salt mill and pepper in a pepper mill.

However, our Classic range of Cole and Mason grinders use a unique diamond-sharp ceramic mechanism which means you can use either salt or pepper in both, interchangeably.

How can you tell salt and pepper shakers apart?

salt and pepper shakers next to a sandwich

Salt and pepper shakers are ideal for quickly adding a dash of seasoning to jazz up your dish. Designed for pre-ground salt and pepper, you can just shake and go. Often, salt and pepper shakers look very similar, and you may not be able to tell them apart at first glance.

Depending on design and aesthetic, salt and pepper shakers may be distinguished from one another by the number of holes on top. In more traditional UK designs, pepper shakers have three or four holes, while a salt shaker has one or two. However, it’s really down to personal preference which seasoning you fill each with!

A practical option is to choose clear glass or acrylic shakers. That way, you can see what you’ve got right away. The same goes for salt and pepper grinders. A clear mill allows you to pick up the seasoning you need right away and also gives you a heads up on when you’re running low. For opaque mills, you may wish to go for a set that has a handy ‘S’ or ‘P’ marking on the top.

Do you clean them in the same way?

It’s quick and easy to clean salt and pepper shakers. You can simply unscrew the lids, clean the jars in warm, soapy water, and wipe the lids with a damp cloth. It’s important to dry the shakers fully before refilling to prevent the holes from becoming clogged.

For salt and pepper grinders, you may need to take a bit more care with cleaning, depending on the mill’s materials. Water can corrode the metal mechanism in a pepper grinder, so it’s essential to keep it dry. To clean, wipe gently with a damp cloth and use a clean cloth to dry. Ceramic grinders are rust-resistant, but it’s still best to wipe gently with a damp cloth and avoid submerging the mill in water.

Whether you choose a sleek electric model or a traditional wooden set, all our salt and pepper mills come with a lifetime mechanism guarantee so you can season to your heart’s content.

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