Today, pepper is on tables everywhere, and even comes in little paper pouches from fast food restaurants. Who would believe that it used to be a sought-after spice, so rare that some cultures accepted it as currency? Pepper accounts for about 25 percent of the world's spice trade, and has been known as a seasoning for at least 3,000 years.
Pepper as we know it is the ground-up buds, or "berries," of the common pepper plant. Most people usually see ground black pepper in the familiar can, but whole peppercorns are also regaining popularity. When ground fresh, peppercorns have a much livelier flavor than pre-ground black pepper, and some chefs insist on a particular species of pepper for their food! However, to grind up pepper at the table, one needs a pepper mill.
A pepper mill may have a crank on top, or the mill itself may twist, bringing together two metal burrs that grind the peppercorns into a usable spice, suitable for cooking or for sprinkling on top of cooked food. The idea for the pepper mill came from the coffee mill. It was a quick step for the enterprising cook to use his coffee mill to grind peppercorns, rather than using a mortar and pestle. The pepper mill was then created in a smaller size, more suitable for the smaller peppercorns.