The Common Store-Bought Shortcut That's Weakening All Of Your Dinners

While getting dinner on the table is getting easier and easier with all the access we have to shortcut ingredients, there is one spice cabinet staple that can take your meal from great to average: ground black pepper.

The ultimate sidekick to salt, pepper is a true staple in kitchens worldwide. Its authentic purpose is to counteract any overpowering flavors and textures in dishes with its compelling bitterness, while its partner (salt) is meant to enhance flavors and bring them to the surface. The saying "opposites attract" would make sense with this dynamic duo. However, while there are many different forms of salt, there are also many forms of pepper. The most common, budget-friendly, and easily accessible one found in many households today is store-bought ground black pepper, which unfortunately has much less of a pungent flavor compared to freshly ground whole black peppercorns. The reason it retains less flavor compared to the fresh stuff is all in the timing.

Ground black pepper

Once whole peppercorns are ground up, their pungency is at its peak and slowly begins to decline. The longer the ground particles are exposed to oxygen, the more the flavor dissipates. Since the role of black pepper is to dilute strong flavors, the addition of ground black pepper is essentially serving no purpose as it has already been very diluted.

Instead of taking the easy route, your taste buds will thank you for going the extra mile and using freshly cracked pepper. Simply purchase whole peppercorns, store them in a handheld pepper grinder, and twist it to freshly crack them onto your dish upon serving. If you don't own a handheld pepper grinder, you can store whole peppercorns in the spice cabinet and transfer them to a spice grinder or coffee grinder when you're ready to season. For another layer of flavor, try toasting your whole peppercorns before grinding them. This will create an extra level of smokiness to your dish and will really shine in meals that spotlight pepper, such as cacio e pepe or a lemon pepper rub for chicken.