My friend Jean Michel, whom I consider among the world’s best French chefs, always tells me that the balance of salt and pepper is the most critical part of a savoury dish to capture the guest’s tastebuds. He says he disrupts a sweet dish with a pinch of salt to raise the sweet’s savoury undertone. All this is quite understandable in western models of Cartesian dualism, the philosophy of mind and body distinction developed by Rene Descartes.
Hi-funda pepper and salt: Let me now recount other tasty pepper and salt effects. As a guest lecturer in an MBA school in Europe, after a general introduction, the first question I threw at a global group of senior management attendees was, “What’s the difference between salt and pepper?” I expected a quick answer, but it swelled into a big subject, perhaps because the almost 100 participants in the class were from different countries. I had allocated 20 minutes for them to write and explain salt and pepper, but the five-six people on every table were keen to narrate with examples. The result was fascinating. Technocrats, scientists, managers of different subjects equated the result, or turned the subject around in their mouths towards gravitation, density, weight, analysis of its nature connect and so on. In sum, they were happy weighing the subject as heavy substance. I gave them full liberty of expression without interrupting their serious case, but I could never imagine it would occupy my whole session. In those pre-PowerPoint days, this first slide in my OHP presentation was so well-thrashed that I did not need to open the 19 other slides I had prepared. My session was enthusiastic and far-reaching. When I put my ‘Thank You’ slide, saying salt makes savoury products tasty, and that pepper adds a spicy zing to the tongue, everybody was thrilled: “The best of marketing action is simplicity”, they concluded.
Pepper, salt, sugar disruptive social phenomenon: On returning to India, I find that pepper, salt and sugar have a totally different aspect at the social level. When I take a Caucasian friend to a coffee shop or restaurant and invite them to have nimbu paani (fresh lime water)
or lassi (Indian milk shake), my conversation in placing the order flummoxes them. Should it be salty, sugary or both? I confidently answer the waiter’s queries on more salt, rock salt or black salt and sometimes less sugar, leaving my