Salt and pepper: the bedrock of all Western cuisine. But just how did salt and pepper turn into the dynamic duo? Either spice could have potentially become a staple on its own–salt is essential to human biology and pepper was for a long time the most coveted and widely-traded spice in the world. But when did cooks first start pairing them together?
As with many culinary innovations, western chefs should thank the French. Specifically, the French chef François Pierre de la Varenne. A pioneer in French cooking, the man codified what is now considered classic French cuisine. Publishing over 800 recipes, he moved France away from the heavily spiced meals of the Medieval age, to a simpler, more minimal palate. “When I eat cabbage soup, I want it to taste like cabbage,” La Varenne wrote. And when it came to pepper, he considered it the only “exotic” spice that complemented salt. He encouraged readers to use both in their cooking, as neither would overpower the actual taste of the dish.
Varenne’s style of cooking was adopted by the King Louis XIV’s court and from there, it moved throughout Europe. With it came the popularity of salt and pepper dishes, with countries like Britain adapting the dishes to their national tastes. Europe then brought these dishes to their colonies, where they were again adapted to fit new palates. With industrialization and globalization, salt and pepper became cheap and accessible in every kitchen and every table.
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