Why Do We Use Salt and Pepper to Flavor Food?

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Salt and pepper are mainstays of the Western dinner table, but have you ever stopped to wonder why? Joe Hanson and the team over at PBS’s It’s Okay To Be Smart recently tackled the question. Pepper fans, be warned: They take major issue with the spice’s ubiquity.

The prevalence of salt, however, makes sense. It’s found all over the planet, is a vital ingredient for life, helps to keep our bodies functioning at full capacity, and serves to enhance certain flavors by suppressing bitterness. Hanson delves into the history of sodium chloride (NaCl), establishing its historical, cultural, and culinary value (as if we needed convincing). “Salt is probably the most important ingredient on Earth,” Hanson says.

And then there’s pepper. Turns out, pepper’s pairing with salt to become our two most essential seasonings might all be thanks to Louis XIV. The French king had a penchant for light flavoring, preferring a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper. If his palate had been different, maybe we'd be putting salt and cinnamon on everything.

This isn’t the first time someone has waged a war on black pepper. Some food for thought for the next time you grab a hold of those omnipresent shakers. Check out the video and full explanation above.