Q. How did black pepper become the table spice of choice? Why not salt and cumin? Or “please pass the salt and turmeric”?
While there are many kinds of peppercorns, the familiar black pepper ended up on tables because it is mild and goes with a number of recipes, according to Marjorie Shaffer, author of the new book Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99).
The reverence for pepper predates the Romans, says Shaffer. Most ancient cultures thought it brought health and cured a variety of ills. It was so sought-after that it drove the spice trade.
“Pepper’s ability to insinuate itself into almost any type of food is probably the reason why it became the ever-present companion of salt,” Shaffer wrote in an email.
Q. Is it true that uncooked dried beans are poisonous? I bought garbanzo bean flour to make my own hummus. Is there any danger to eating this flour uncooked?
This is a case of a little bit of truth leading to a lot of worry. Dried beans do have lectin, a type of protein, called phytohemagglutinin, or PHA. And while PHA is toxic in large amounts, only red kidney beans are high enough in PHA to be an issue. Most dried beans, including garbanzos (also called chickpeas), have much smaller amounts.
PHA is reduced by boiling beans for 10 minutes — a lot less time than it takes to cook dried, soaked kidney beans. By the time you soak and cook the beans, the PHA problem is gone.
Commercially made garbanzo bean flour is processed so that the PHA is not a problem. If you’re worried, hummus also can be made from cooked or canned garbanzos.