New Salt and Pepper Mills Shake and Grind It With Help of Upscale Plastic

Times Staff Writer

Once an "ugly duckling" in the consumer marketplace, plastics have gone upscale, molding the successful status of many kitchen and household goods. They simulate ivory, ceramic, marble, porcelain, wood and almost any type of raw material one can think of.

The lightweight, economical and pliable qualities of today's heavy-duty durable plastics are seen in such everyday gadgets as salt and pepper shakers. Since there's no comparison to the taste and aroma of freshly cracked pepper, pepper mills have been on the upswing lately. The availability of various types of peppercorns have also made pepper grinders popular.

On the high end of the scale, you can choose from gold, crystal, silver and wooden pepper mills, but the contemporary plastic counterparts described here are equally fulfilling in their own right.

Chef'N, a salt and pepper machine in one, was born through the efforts of inventor David Holcomb of Seattle, who also invented a popular garlic machine. "The idea came up about two years ago at the San Francisco gourmet show," Holcomb said. "I noticed that all salt and pepper grinders operated and looked the same."

Main Attraction

The concept developed into a well-styled black or black and white unit made of top-of-the-line polycarbon plastic, measuring 6 1/2 inches in length. One of the main attractions in his design is a dial that adjusts the coarseness of pepper from fine to coarse grind.

Aside from the sleek design, I like the one-handed operation involved. The hand-squeeze movement reminds you of a muscle-exercising tool, offering you a chance to exercise a bit while grinding your pepper. The top of the unit is a salt dispenser with a small three-holed "door" panel that slides open for filling purposes. "The salt function came as a second thought as there was room to put it up there," Holcomb explained.

He added that although black is elegant, especially for tabletop, white seems to be the more salable item. Great for picnic baskets, the portable salt and pepper machine certainly prevents losing one of a pair.

PepperMate is another attractive plastic pepper mill that has been on market shelves for a few years. The white body is made from sturdy impact-resistant plastics, whereas the grinding mechanism is nickel-plated hardened steel. It has a large opening on top, which snaps off for easy filling. There is a turn key on the side for grinding, and five complete turns produce one-half teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper.

Fine to Extra-Course Grains

Adjustments can be made on the mill to produce fine to extra-coarse grains. There is an adjustment knob inside the top cavity, which when turned clockwise makes fine grind and counterclockwise, coarse grind. The removable see-through clear base may be used to collect ground pepper for scooping out measured amounts, or it may be removed so the pepper flows freely into the food. The pepper mill measures about 6 inches high and 4 1/2 inches wide.

There are also some high-tech battery-operated pepper mills available, but for those who prefer to do a little hand aerobics, these manual grinders can be more fun, aside from being more economical.

The Chef'N has a suggested retail price of $14.95 and is available at Norris Hardware (Pacific Palisades), Martinel Co. (Los Angeles) and Barbara's , The Decorator's Supermart (West Los Angeles).

The PepperMate has a suggested retail price of $25 and is available at Cookin' Stuff (Torrance) and Montana Mercantile (Santa Monica).

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