Right up front, toasting and grinding your own black pepper is worth the effort. It's super easy and it's fun, in a food explorer's sort of way. I KNOW you know what I'm saying.
Now, I'll be completely honest here. Sometimes I buy & try things I think I need in my cooking, but I don't know why I need them. Then I grow tired of my ignorance and I go through the effort to compare what I always use to this new thing.
Today, I compared the flavors of freshly toasted, ground, black peppercorns to the traditional tin of ground black pepper. After hearing and reading that there was a distinct difference, I wanted to know for myself.
HERE'S HOW EASY IT IS TO TOAST & GRIND PEPPERCORNS
Pour the peppercorns into a dry heavy pan over medium heat, stir the peppercorns around the pan to get an even toasting. I didn't actually know how long to toast them. So, I used my baking sense to determine the time; when I could smell the peppery aroma, they were done.
Move them to a small bowl and allow to cool. Do not just remove pan from heat, they will continue to toast. (That's what the book said.) Using my old coffee maker with grinder, I counted to 40 to get the ground size you see in the pictures. It produced a few whole peppercorns, big chunks and powdery pepper. I could have run it longer, but I didn't.
To transfer the pepper back to it's airtight container, I used my handy, dandy spice funnel. Not available in stores. It's really a large triangle cut from a sturdy envelope with the corner tip snipped off. I keep it in my gadget drawer for times like these.
NOW TO TASTE THE DIFFERENCE
In case you're wondering. No, I don't have special taste buds. No, I cannot explain the complex chemical reactions that take place in the mouth or explain why the brain triggers hormones that make me say, "Yum."
I made a simple chicken salad. I generously sprinkled a forkful of salad with the fresh pepper, then chewed it. I noticed that it opened up to a smoky flavor and aroma in my mouth without being hot. There was a little heat on the sides of my tongue, but nothing uncomfortable. It was very nice and it didn't cover up the flavors in my salad bite. It went along with them.
Swished my mouth with water until cleared of the first bite.
Second bite, much like the first, now generously sprinkled with tin ground pepper. Immediate BLUCK! It felt like I put ash on my chicken. It didn't do anything, except cover up the other ingredients. I couldn't taste the chicken, I just felt it. It wasn't pretty.
I swished my mouth, again, and repeated the tasting to solidify my opinions. After I finished eating the rest of the salad with toasted, freshly ground pepper, I threw the tin of pepper in the trash.
THEY are right. Freshly ground pepper is WAY better.
Now, to ask which is better, toasted or not toasted? I have purchased the peppercorns that come in their own grinder. I didn't get the same experience in flavor as from the toasted peppercorns. So, there you have it. My whole two cents.