Salt ‘n peppa debate

some shakersI recently became aware of an interesting debate over what I thought was common sense. Until I started asking around, I never would have thought this was so contentious (i.e. I thought I was right, goddammit). The question is over which spice goes in which shaker. Here’s the beef:

Flavor Camp: Salt goes in the shaker with more holes because people use salt more often, and in greater amounts. This equalizes the need, making one shake roughly the same for either spice.

Flow Camp: Pepper goes in the shaker with more holes because it consists of larger chunks than salt. This equalizes the flow, making one shake roughly the same for either spice.

I have always been in the flow camp, and assumed it to be a tautology, but perhaps this is like the great soda/pop/coke debacle, reflecting regional preference. No one I have talked to (including chefs, cooking store clerks, and moms) has been able to provide a convincing answer for either, and have been roughly divided between the two camps. Help?

49 thoughts on “Salt ‘n peppa debate

  1. High blood pressure? salt goes in the small-holed shaker, period. Or the no-holed one, if you have heart disease, too. Low blood pressure? Hey man, if you care about flavor, you like your pepper ground.

  2. I’ve always preferred the salt and pepper shakers with the holes arranged in a dotted capital S or P. Kitschy, yes, but it does pretty much eliminate any confusion or potential domestic arguments. The pepper grinder style shakers with the salt on the top and the pepper on the bottom are also quite nice.

  3. The FAQ from the The International Guild of Professional Butlers has the most complete answer, “The salt shaker may be distinguished primarily by the size of the holes, and then by the number of holes. Salt is coarser than pepper, and needs the larger hole. It is also heavier and flows much more freely than pepper, accordingly there are often fewer holes on the salt shaker to help control the flow. However, there is no manufacturing standard.”

    The several in-depth Usenet debates (1, 2, 3) seem to agree. In a set, the shaker with one hole in the center is always salt. If both shakers have more than one hole, then the one with fewer holes is always pepper.

  4. i think you’re going to have to go with the butlers, here. could there be a more appropriate source?

  5. The international guild of profesional butlers? Excuse me? As a member of the flavor camp I question the reference to the butler group. Is that a small group of oppressed individuals living in some small town in England. What would they know. What do the chefs say? For my part (sadly I have no butler) Flavor is the operative word. Though I recognize that this issue is controversial and there is no absolute right or wrong I stick to my guns about Salt shakers having more holes. Maybe when I finally get that butler I’ve been needing so badly I’ll change my tune.

  6. Despite Andy’s uncanny ability to use his prosthetic brain (google) to solve these types of dilemmas, I’m glad to see that there’s still a little bit of contention left in the bunch. The only way to really answer this question is to talk to a shaker manufacturer.. the source.

    I still think that there’s a reason that these people place different sizes/numbers of holes, and I think it’s much easier to ask them than question the assumptions of these supposed “experts.” If only there was a shaker designer among the weblog crowd. Ho hum.

  7. pepper in both! there’s already enough salt in everything.

    when i was a kid, the salt shaker was the one with the cardboard circle stuck in the lid. my grandpa was quite anti-salt too. garlic salt’s pretty good, though. and seasoned salt…i can eat that straight. maybe salt’s not that bad.

  8. It seems only logical to me that the salt go into the bottle with the lesser holes. However much you choose to put on your food is your own deal, but why would a manufacturer choose to design an unequal system of dispersement. I mean not everybody wants that much salt and barely any pepper. it only seems right that you would choose that on your own, and not force the public to abide by the tyranny of unequal shakers. i think it is a farce. give the human race back it’s dignity you pepper haters.

  9. pepper was more expensive back in the day than salt- fewer holes= less waste
    pepper is spicier than salt and most people want to still be able to taste their food – fewer holes= less pepper and more food flavor
    pepper is nasty (sorry all you pepper lovers)- fewer holes= less ewww!(salt is gross too- I prefer to TASTE my food 😉

  10. I just cannot get enough salt. The more the better. I just drill a big hole in all my shakers so that the salt can just flow. After exercise, I often lick my arm to just get that quick replenishment.

  11. I just got married in June and as a gift received two sets of pewter S & P shakers, which look like little eggs. One egg has a single hole and the other egg has three. I filled them the other evening and placed the salt in the egg with a single hole, assuming that less flow meant more control. However, reading all of these responses has me wondering.

    My husband and I had our own debate. He’s convinced that I filled them incorrectly, however according to the Butler Guild, perhaps not. We will continue to use them correctly or incorrectly until they are empty. I hate to waste things.

  12. you can see the pepper, so if more is coming out of more holes, you wont be surprised by the amount youve used.
    the salt, being harder to see, should come out less at a shake, so you dont over do it.
    my mom and i have been debating this for a while now and both arguements seem vaild. the s&p shaker industry seems split, too. ive been looking at them everytime i think to while in a store, and it varies all the time. who would be THE person to ask!?

  13. Where them people at? who is this any how? how is this possible that they aint a group no more? where is the music and photos? who do you know besides osama? MISSY ELLIOT.

  14. Who really cares! Do what u want – salt is a heart killer and makes people retain water – most people who use it are overweight – pepper is anti-carcinogenic…..

  15. I find all of this comical, to say the least, but no one is thinking about the facts OF THE DAY. In other words, salt WAS a larger grain and pepper WAS needed only half as much thus, (back then BEFORE we knew what salt did to us health-wise) a ‘shake of this’ and a ‘shake of that’ would PROPORTIONATELY equal a larger-holed salt and a smaller-holed pepper set of shakers. This is evident in recipes that call for twice as much salt than pepper — think about it!

  16. 3 votes for salt in the less holed shaker, as opposed to the one other individual voting the other way. This has been a large dispute between this particular group of friends.

  17. I have a debate going with my friend taun disputing about which shaker does the salt and pepper go in. He says that the pepper goes in the shaker with more holes because the grains of pepper are larger and need more room to come out. But my argument to that is that the pepper goes in shaker with less holes because pepper is stronger and you don’t want as much of it. This argument has been going on between us for a few weeks now and we have been asking friends, family, even people we don’t know which one of us is correct. If anyone knows the true answer, please e-mail me. We would like to get this debate resolved, and over with as soon as possible.

  18. I belive that the salt goes into the shaker with the smaller holes, Because salt is a compound that makes your bloodpreasure rise, so…… salt is a thing to be used sparingly that is why salt shakers have less hole. Pepper on the other hand is a spice that is not good nor bad for you that is why there are 5 holes on the shaker because in many things in life 5 is the number where it is not raised or lowered. I do not belive about the size of the spices because even pepper can be smaller than salt ….Thus concludes my belief and I hope that this can put this silly debate to rest.

  19. Having purchased a nice pair of ceramic salt & pepper shakers today, I found myself staring this same question in the face. One shaker had one hole, one had five. In my experience, I thought I remembered, the shaker with more holes was usually salt. But I also routinely accidentally dump too much salt on my food because of flow issues. So, switch them, right? But I didn’t want to confuse guests by having the things loaded backwards.

    I turned in the end to Google and discovered this site. What a relief to see a marked preference for a one-hole/salt solution and even some scholarship indicating that this is the “correct” way to do it.

    Now I must unload my five hole shaker, which I prematurely loaded with salt.

  20. I believe that the salt goes into the shaker with the smaller or less holes, Because salt is a thing we use to lend taste just like sugar, that is why salt shakers have less hole. Pepper on the other hand is a spice that adds that something extra this is why there are 5 holes on the Pepper shaker. I do believe with salt you never want too much, because I have seen people eat pepper from mild to hot and throw away food with too much salt. I think it’s more difficult to take over salting than more pepper.

  21. I would like to add one more point to this.Actually the salt shaker should have less no. of holes the reason being salt is more prone to moisturization than pepper. The more the holes the more will be the moisture inside. So make the holes less in salt shaker to keep moisture out.

  22. To discount the previous post if the salt only has one hole it would be a pain to clean every time it clogs. So if there are more holes at least some salt would still flow. Also growing up my parents had shakers that were marked with an S & P and the pepper had one hole.

  23. Hole differentiation pre-dates the discovery of the salt/hypertension connection, so a health realated answer is moot. Hole differentiation also pre-dates “when it rains it pours” salt, so more holes definately helped when clumping occurred. Modern day circumstances may seem to intuitively apply to this problem, but don’t make the solution any more valid. Salt goes in the shaker with more holes.

  24. We interrupt the whole Celbrex link attack to get back to the salt and pepper shaker debate.

    I googled this issue because I received a lovely set of shakers and one has three holes, the other has four. I really wanted to know which to use for salt and which to use for pepper.

    Ah well, the debate continues.

    Happy Holidays

  25. I bought a set of shakers for my friend, one with one hole and the other with three. She has the salt in the one with more holes. I’ve had dinner at her place and I don’t go crazy on the pepper, but to get a conservative amount you have to shake it about thirty times… Anyway, I guess maybe it all depends on how big the hole is, or how much exercise you need before eating, lol.

  26. I am a STRONG believer in the FLAVOUR camp – isn’t that what eating is all about and especially what spices like salt and pepper are for?? More holes for salt…less holes for pepper!!!

  27. When I was just a tadpole, I remember TV with Julia Childs saying, the salt goes in the shaker with fewer or smaller holes and pepper in the larger or more numerous holed shaker. The debate lives on in my home every Thanksgiving feast as I am a bull headed Taurus still trying to figure out why I was watching cooking shows at that age. I have a sea salt shaker with some HUGE holes however.

  28. I’d like to add to the confusion. I have a set of S&P that have the same number of holes, but one shaker being bigger than the other. They are of similar shape, but one is a little taller than the other while the shorter one is a little rounder. Now which one gets the salt???

  29. I just purchased new S&P shakers. My previous set had no designation for S vs P and the new ones have 4 holes in one and 6 holes in the other, all of the same size. So I sez to myself, you know I’ve wondered about this for years so I’ll just google this question, get THE DEFINITIVE, one & only, answer and be on my way to other things. Silly me. I must thank Rabies is for Real for providing me today’s dose of laughter to offset any damage done by today’s (actually quite modest) dose of salt.

    Obviously the answer to this controversy is to be an independent thinker and do what you damn well please. I’ve been saying that for years in response to “should one have red or white wine with this dish?” so I don’t know why I worried about the S & P issue. Lingering fear of the Etiquette Police, I guess. So, I shall put the salt in the one with fewer holes as I prefer more pepper and less salt and HATE to oversalt.

    By the way, my solution to the potential moisture/clumping in the salt shaker is to put a few grains of rice in with it to absorb the moisture. Always works for me. Don’t do this in a clear shaker, though. At a dinner party some friends hoped I wouldn’t be offended if they pointed out that I had fungus or worms or something in my salt!!!

  30. How reassuring to find that my family’s dinner table debate is being had across the country! I am always worried about over-salting (yuck!) and say salt gets the fewer number of holes. My mother wonders how on earth I came up with this hair-brained idea because “our family has always put the salt in the shaker with more holes”. I will go with my granddaddy and just pour it in my palm first so there aren’t any surprises.

  31. I’ve sailed the seas for 25 years, dined in mess halls, wardrooms, greasy spoons, and palaces around the world. There is no standard. Normally, salt is found in the shaker with a single hole but, if both are multi-holed, the one with the most holes, and if both are equally multi-holed, the larger shaker of the two. But expect no guarantee. If in doubt when visiting, do as I’ve learned: take a best guess as to which holds the salt, pick it up in one hand and discreetly shake a small amount in the palm of your other hand. Verification complete, sprinkle it on your desired morsel or jettison outboard as desired. Most importantly, enjoy the meal.

  32. Isn’t this debate up there with the way one hangs the toiletpaper…rolling over the top, of course.

    Well, I’m with the Flow Camp and so are women I’ve asked, while men seem to have another opinion…

    I love this trivial, but passionate debate!!

    Good Luck All!!

  33. My wife and I received a gift of s&p shakers intertwined like yin-yang symbols, one white and one black. My wife started to put salt into the black shaker because it had 3 holes and the white one had two. I yelled, “Stop! It’s ovbious that salt, being white, goes into the white shaker, and pepper into the black shaker, despite it’s three holes.” The maker of this particular set seems to side with the “flow” group (I’m assuming that the color coding was intentional and that most people would expect salt to be in the white shaker.

  34. My wife and I received a gift of s&p shakers intertwined like yin-yang symbols, one white and one black. My wife started to put salt into the black shaker because it had 3 holes and the white one had two. I yelled, “Stop! It’s ovbious that salt, being white, goes into the white shaker, and pepper into the black shaker, despite it’s three holes.” The maker of this particular set seems to side with the “flow” group (I’m assuming that the color coding was intentional and that most people would expect salt to be in the white shaker.

  35. I just got new S&P shakers and put the salt in the one with a single whole. The salt just POURS out of it, while the pepper barely comes out of the one with three holes (the holes are the same size). So there’s no shaking needed regardless for the salt, whether or not it’s in the shaker with one or three holes, so both the flavor and flow camps can be satisfied this way.

  36. I found this site while trying to find out which shaker was for salt and which for pepper. Now I am more confused than ever. Guess I will just follow my own mind. Oh, and by the way, my husband’s sight is not as good as it used to be and he cannot see the salt coming out of the shaker, and sometimes over-salts. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get colored salt!

  37. I was taught that salt goes in the shaker with more holes and the other night friends were over and they told me I was incorrect. I looked this up and while I have to admit the butlers are a reliable source, it seems that Andy Baio got it right with his three references stating that if both shakers have more than one hole.

  38. I used to think “The one with 7 holes is for salt, the grinder is for pepper and the one with 19 holes is missing. Then, I found the one with 19 holes and noticed that all 7 holes were blocked. Every time I mane one shake, they became blocked with chunks of salt. So I decided to use my 19 hole one, figuring that if 7 or 8 became blocked, I would still have about 11 holes to use. and it worked!
    Btw, why do they have to ask you the sum of 10 and 3?

  39. I would like to make an observation. Maybe someone has come across this. Just came back from a very big restaurant. It was attached to a star hotel.
    The pepper had got soggy and stiffened. And there was a distinct smell of fungus. To cut a long story short, when they found out, they got rid of the evidence. So heres a lesson to all those hoteliers and ‘Bistro’ managers…. keep a check on what goes into that all important S&P bottles.

    And since the debate is bordering on trivial, in India we have a very literate way to handle the holes issue. Salts have holes made in ‘S’ shape. And P :..:… you got it!

  40. What a fascinating debate.

    First, throw out the comments regarding pepper mills and/or salt cellars. Yes, fresh ground pepper is, in my opinion, far tastier than pre-gound pepper. And one could certainly make an argument for using a salt cellar (from the French salier, or salt-box) and spoon, with perhaps coarse sea salt, but the question at hand involves using a PAIR of salt and pepper SHAKERS, so let’s stick with the question.

    I suspect salt processing technology has progressed in the 150 yrs or so since the “modern” salt shaker was introduced. Likewise, the pepper grinding process for pre-ground pepper has undoubtedly changed.

    If one purchases a set of salt and pepper shakers from, let’s say, the 1920’s, what was the consistency and variation of salt and pepper grains at that time? And how have they changed.

    It may have been that salt grains were large, and may not have fit through small holes. I agree that moisture absorbtion and clumping may have been the primary problem, and required large holes. But would it have been as big a problem in Denver as it was in New Orleans? And was the salt processed locally, with regional variations in a “standard grain?” In fact, is the “standard salt grain” in Europe the same as in the US?

    The use of salt anti-clumping technology is newer than the design of the first salt and pepper shaker sets, so perhaps the original original reasons for different hole sizes and hole number no longer applies.

    And what about pepper clumping? Is this a problem as well? What about in very humid climates?

    The salt/blood pressure issue also is much more recent than the design of early salt and pepper shakers, so arguments regarding this topic are, from an historic perspective, out of bounds.

    And what about pepper clumping? And current pepper grain size? I have in my kitchen “standard grocery store” ground black pepper, with tiny grains, and “gourmet” ground black pepper, with grains bigger than the salt grains. How can a “one size fits all” solution take this into account.

    Therefore, I propose what I think is a reasonable solution.

    Given that YOUR salt and pepper shakers may have been produced in a different time and era, and be different from other people’s shakers, and given that the salt and pepper in YOUR kitchen may be different from that in other people’s kitchen, and given that YOUR climate may be different from other people’s climate, etc., etc, etc.:

    I submit that the reasonable solution is to load up the shakers, give them a couple of good shakes, see if a reasonable amount of condiment is dispensed from each, and if so, mix a martini and call it a day.

    If the condiment distribution differential (CDD) is too high, reverse the salt/pepper distribution and try again, then pick the one that is better.

    Although, I must admit that if one shaker is white, and the other is black, or if one is marked with an S, and the other with a P, it would just be sillly to go against such subtle clues.

  41. I always thought the salt had the single hole and the pepper hand the muitple ones. I was the Captain on a private Gulfstream jet and was ordered to fire a flight attendent because she didn’t know. The owner agreeded with my thinking but I wouldn’t to have bet my job on the correct answer.

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