How Salt And Pepper Became Paired With Each Other

Salt and pepper are almost always found together: You buy salt and pepper shakers in sets, they're fairly ubiquitous at restaurant tables, and they're commonly added to practically every savory recipe under the sun. Why is this? Why are salt and pepper the most common of seasonings in Europe and North America, as opposed to, say, cinnamon and sage? The history of the two spices, and how one man's stroke of genius paired them together indefinitely, goes back further than we think.

Salt has been around for centuries, according to Allrecipes, and the oldest record of salt cultivation is dated at 6,000 B.C.E. in the Shangxi province in China. Salt was used to preserve food (and people, in the case of mummification), and as an antiseptic. Pepper, or black peppercorns more specifically, originated in Kerala, India, and were seen as incredibly valuable — oftentimes being used as a kind of currency (via Allrecipes). Pepper was mostly used on the tables of the rich and noble due to its high value and monopolies in trade. So how did the two finally come together?

A French chef first combined the two in cooking

The combination of salt and pepper in many dishes was first suggested by Francois Pierre La Varenne, who served as the royal chef to King Louis XIV, according to Allrecipes. La Varenne encouraged people in the 17th century to combine the two seasonings, which he himself had combined in foods for the king, who was said to be a picky eater and didn't want the taste of his meals overpowered by the flavor of seasonings.

According to Gizmodo, back then it was more common to pair sugary and salty dishes at the same time until the cooks for the king began separating the salty dishes from the sweet ones, and adding a bit of pepper rather than overpowering spices. The pairing, according to Allrecipes, was a smash hit, because pepper was one of the only spices that complemented the flavor of salt rather than overpowering it. "The use of salt and pepper as tableside condiments has since spread throughout Europe and the Americas," reports Allrecipes. So the next time you're out to eat, or salting and peppering a dish at home, remember that this cultural practice all originated from one particular king who was a picky eater.