They’re sure to be found on every dining table in US and Europe. It’s almost tradition to season our food with salt and pepper right after we sit down to eat. But have you ever wondered how they became the two most popular spices? Here are the best rated answers from the internet to this question.
Your taste buds are more receptive in the presence of salt. Because of this, if you use a suitable amount of salt you can enhance the taste of almost any food. Be aware though, if you regularly use a lot of salt (but not so much to make the food taste disgusting) when you return to eating food with less salt it may appear to taste worse.
As such, this ‘enhance all taste’ property of salt is desirable for the dinner table.
Salt preserves food (by drying it) and is readily attainable (from the sea). Pepper preserves meat (piperine kills bacteria and repels maggots but is harmless to humans).
Over time, cultures that embraced preservatives like this prospered and their cuisine spread. In India, they use a whole different set of spices. In China, there are even two different words for spices called La and Ma (La (not Lada) and Ma are more nuanced and appear to refer to different things. La is the word spicy generically. And by region (Hunan vs Szechuan) Ma la refers to the numbing spice (that I described as electric feeling)
One is fiery like capsaicin and the other, referring to Szechuan pepper corn, is electric like a battery on your tongue. It’s amazing.
The reason salt and pepper came to grace restaurant tables with all those other spices out there is **French cooking and Louis XIV. **
At the time that formal dining came into fashion, French culture was influential throughout the western world. Louis XIV was an influential man as the king of France. He didn’t like as much salt or pepper in his food but others did so he created the custom of having his chefs put it on the table rather than cooked in. The custom spread and western culture helped spread it all over the world.
Pepper was made popular in roman times – a roman cookbook used it in 80% of recipes. It seems to have gain popularity as a more affordable alternative to long pepper, a similar spice that was popular amongst the nobles. Other anecdotes note that Louis XIV ordered it to be used with salt in his courts in the 1600s – this may have just been his personal tastes or it may have been a desire to be “more Roman” which crops up time and again in European history. Current culinary traditions derive from the noble tastes of the last 400 years or so, so this is likely where the modern tradition comes from, as the parent post notes.
It is readily attainable (from the sea)
Not everywhere is close to a coast to get salt, and salt mines were just as important to getting salt as evaporative methods. Besides evaporation is time intensive if you do it naturally or fuel intensive to concentrate it.
Salt wasn’t just a spice, it was currency and access to sources was worth to go to war over. It improves the taste of food as well as preserving it as well as being essential to life.
It’s the real world Spice Melange.
Having salt on the table was a sign of wealth. You had this very expensive mineral/spice that you could show off adding to your food in front of guests.