Do you like black pepper? I know I do. So does my wife. I started this love affair with pepper in college when I discovered that a healthy dose of pepper could retroactively extend the expiration date of hamburger well into the next semester. My wife, on the other hand, is enamored by the taste and how it enhances the subtle nuances of many ingredients she uses in cooking, but then again she is the one who takes time during a meal to actually taste the food.

It’s always embarrassing in a restaurant when the wait staff asks us if we would like some fresh ground pepper and we say yes. Sometimes with great fanfare they bring a ridiculously oversized pepper mill to the table and start grinding. Soon they shoot us glances and finally ask with a forced smile if that might be enough or would it be rude to inquire if we’re planning to choke a horse with what they are dispensing. Well it’s never enough but we play along and say thank you. Then, when they disappear to re-load, we finish off the job with the resident tabletop pepper shaker.

This brings us hard up against a problem many restaurants don’t know they have and it’s what I call the “Large Pepper Syndrome.” Here is the scenario: restaurants refill their pepper shakers on a regular basis. They just add to the pepper that is already there. Some of the pepper flakes are too big to fit through the holes in the shaker lid so they are essentially trapped there. Over time as the shakers are refilled, more and more over-size flakes accumulate until they obstruct the holes so that hardly any pepper gets out.

About this time the restaurant notices that the pepper shakers are always full so the word gets back to the cook that the food must be too spicy or patrons would use more pepper. Sadly, this is what happened in England and it’s the

reason English food is so bland.

To counter this effect, we usually unscrew the top from the pepper shaker and tap out what pepper we need to blacken our entrée. Sometimes this tactic is not too satisfying; we do get a generous amount of pepper but if you think about it, we are dispensing the oldest pepper in the shaker. Ideally, pepper shakers should have gigantic holes to allow for the largest of flakes and we should all support legislation in this direction, which would be far easier to get through Congress than any bill to repair roads or provide health care.

We can all use more pepper. The positive properties are so numerous that it’s almost hard to believe everything I read about it on the internet. Pepper seems to exhibit anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer properties. It is also suspected of being mildly antibiotic, a staunch anti-communist and an anti–gun control advocate, although there is disagreement in the research as to whether its anti-imperialism posture represents a lean to the left or to the right.

No discussion of black pepper would be complete without mentioning Ramesses the Great, the most celebrated and powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire. After Ramesses died in 1213 BCE he was mummified, as was customary at the time. During this ritual, the embalming crew filled his nasal cavity with peppercorns, in theory to retain his distinctive profile. My own theory is that the process may not have been formal or solemn enough and the embalming crew, holding different political views than the deceased, attempted to condemn Ramesses to endless sneezing in the afterlife. In any case as one author puts it on the web, “He’s been dead [for 32 hundred years] and his nose still looks fabulous.”

A legitimate question that frequently arises is where did the Egyptians get the peppercorns since pepper is indigenous to India and Southeast Asia? My first impulsive answer is that they obviously acquired them at the local supermarket like we do today when we want to retain the shape of a great leader’s nose who may be undergoing the mummification procedure, but of course that is silly. Back then they would have had to procure the peppercorns at their local Indian specialty food mart.

So what have we learned here? Eat a lot of pepper, use pepper shakers with good-size holes and if you want a good- looking schnoz in the afterlife, go with the proven proboscis preserver: peppercorns.