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I've decided to get myself a pepper mill and it'll be a manual Zassenhaus but I'm not sure about the length and color. I'm thinking about 18 or 24 cm but I guess it simply comes down to what you feel the most comfortable with and how much space you've got in your kitchen.

Is there a general "rule" such as white for salt, light wood for white pepper, black for black pepper, etc. or do you just go with the one that looks best in your kitchen? I'm considering light wood, dark wood and black gloss.

I'm wondering if there's any thinking behind the color choice of the mill or if you simply go with the one that looks best in your kitchen.

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I'm a little confused - are you asking whether there are conventions for putting different kinds of pepper in different kinds of pepper mills? –  Jefromi Mar 16 '13 at 4:18
    
There is only black pepper for grinders. Other "colours" are just wasted marketing gimicks –  TFD Mar 16 '13 at 4:29
    
Exactly @Jefromi. I'm wondering if there are any conventions that a specific mill color represent a specific kind of pepper. Eg, a black mill represents black pepper. –  Stefan Mar 16 '13 at 10:08

3 Answers 3

Executive summary

Buy the shortest pepper mill you can comfortably use and only fill it with two or three weeks worth of peppercorns. The colour should be light and if you buy more than one similarly shaped mill, be sure to buy contrasting colours if they are not otherwise easily distinguishable from one another. You should not chose a transparent mill for pepper unless the mill will be kept in the dark.

Length

With regards to convenience it is tempting to choose a pepper mill that is as large as you have space for to avoid having to refill. But pepper mills are not the best way to store your peppercorns. According to McGee's On Food and Cooking,

Even whole peppercorns lose much of their aroma after a month in a grinder. (p. 428)

So if you care more about the quality of your pepper than the convenience of having a combined grinding/storage device, it's worth considering how much pepper you use per month.

One grind of pepper from my own pepper mill weighs about 90mg. This will obviously change from mill to mill, but I'll assume for simplicity that people use roughly the same amount of pepper regardless of how efficiently their mill grinds.

I estimate that I use, on average, about 5 grinds of black pepper per day. That brings me to about 13.5g (roughly half and ounce) of pepper per month.

The shortest pepper mill I've seen on the market is 3.5" (~9cm) and has a capacity of 0.4oz (11g). The next largest at 5" (13cm) holds about 1.7oz (48g), or more than three months worth of pepper for my own usage.

For me a 3.5" mill is a bit awkward to operate and a 5.5" mill feels about right. I suggest you buy the shortest mill that feels right for you and fill it only with enough peppercorns to last you two to three weeks.

Color

I have three mills, one for black pepper, one for salt and one for white pepper. The salt and black pepper mills are near enough identical except for the letters P and S printed on the top. Consequently I reach for the wrong mill about 50% of the time. I would certainly recommend choosing different colours if you purchase more than one mill.

One answer here suggests choosing a mill with a transparent casing to solve this problem. This may not be a good idea unless you keep your pepper mill in a closed cupboard. To quote the peerless McGee once more,

Pepper is best stored tightly sealed in the cold and dark. If exposed to light during storage, it loses its pungency because the light energy rearranges piperine to form a nearly tasteless molecule (isochavicine).

I would also recommend light colours. I'm often guilty of reaching for the pepper mill with my hands dirty from some food-preparation stage. It would be good, when this happens, to later have a visual reminder that the pepper mill is now also dirty. With a dark coloured mill this is difficult to see.

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Only thing I would add is that for salt make sure the grinding parts are not metallic. Even stainless steel I've found rusted. Quite a few sets have one with plastic grinder for salt another for pepper. Plus the fact that the long ones are only really for showing off or where you'd have to refill any other length 10 times a night. –  vwiggins Mar 18 '13 at 11:17

There is no "rule". You just select what looks good in your kitchen according to your tastes.

  • I personally don't grind rock salt and use a normal shaker for that.
  • some pepper mills have a clear (see-through) casing which makes it easy to find out what's inside.
  • I have seen some "clear" mills with black peppercorn, pink peppercorn, and a mix (black, pink, salt).
  • you could have someone engrave with fancy calligraphy.
  • you could always use a label.
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This is one situation where size really doesn't matter (with respect to flavour anyway!)
Presentation and humour are another story entirely

ELECTRIC is the way to go! I was given an electric pepper mill for Christmas one year and it ROCKED my world!! ; )

Things to go for:
Make sure the grinding parts are ceramic.
Make sure the operating parts are metal.
Make sure there is a way to adjust the jaw width of the grinder!

The one I was bough wasn't very good quality and when it broke I was, ultimately, heart broken!! It was a sad sad day! : (

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