Well-known spices, such as allspice, cardamom, cayenne, black pepper and dry mustard, breathe life to a boring dish. Simply tasting garam masala, for instance, can transport your taste buds all the way to India.
Unfortunately, many spices contain volatile aromatics that dissipate quickly. This could leave pre-ground coriander tasting more of stale pine and less of citrus. The solution, therefore, is to buy whole, unprocessed spices. This way, the spice’s complex flavors and aromas remain locked until you choose to set them loose.
Once you’ve purchased your whole spices, you’ll need a kitchen tool to turn them into a consistent powder. This must-have tool is a spice grinder.
What is a Spice Grinder?
As the name goes, a spice grinder is a kitchen aid that allows you to grind dried and hard whole spices. You can grind them into a fine or coarse powder depending on your preferences. This handy tool comes in different varieties. Some are dedicated to processing one spice alone, such as a pepper grinder or a nutmeg grater. Others are multipurpose, such as mortar and pestle.
A spice grinder is a tool that home cooks and aspiring chefs should have in their kitchens. By granulating your spices only when you need them, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to take full advantage of the complex flavors that may not be present in a pre-ground and processed version.
What’s more, using a spice grinder lets you know exactly what’s going into your next dish or meal. Pre-ground and processed spices, on the other hand, may contain additives or other food chemicals that your body doesn’t need.
How to Use a Spice Grinder
First things first: there is no right or wrong option for a spice grinder product. If you prefer convenience, you could purchase an electric spice grinder. Alternatively, you could invest in a manual spice grinder, such as mortar and pestle, if you’re fine with manual labor and want to save on energy costs.
Here are tips when using both a manual and an electric spice grinder:
Using a Manual Spice Grinder
Manual grinders usually have a handle that you can turn (or toggle back and forth) to grind spices. If you have one of these products, just follow the instructions on the manual and you should be good to go.
The process, however, is a little different when you’re using something as “traditional” as mortar and pestle. You could use this to grind herbs and crush round-shaped spices, such as peppercorns.
Using the mortar and pestle is simple. Just place the spices you need to grind in the mortar. Then, press the spices with the pestle. Rotate and crush the seeds until you’ve achieved the texture you want.
Using an Electric Spice Grinder
Operating an electric spice grinder is incredibly simple. Just place your spices inside the container and press the “grind” button. How long you grind spices will depend on you. If you want to pulverize the spice into a fine powder, you’ll need to turn up the dial or adjust the setting (whichever is applicable for your device) and let the machine do its job.
How to Clean a Spice Grinder
Cleaning a mortar and pestle is not too complicated. Here are the steps:
- Wash the kitchen tool in warm water.
- Use an unscented washing liquid along with a firm and clean kitchen brush to get rid of the food particles. Getting an unscented cleaning agent is important, as scented soaps can leave a perfume residue that can transfer to food.
- Do a final rinse on the mortar and pestle to dislodge the remaining food particles.
- Use a tea towel to thoroughly dry the mortar and pestle.
- All the kitchen tool to air dry.
The process for cleaning an electric spice grinder, however, takes more effort. After all, the oils in the dried chiles can stick to the blades, even after you’ve wiped them with a cloth or a brush.
Given that you can’t immerse most machines in water, you’ll need to “dry-clean” this appliance. Here’s the method:
- Put several tablespoons of uncooked white rice inside the grinder’s container.
- Pulverize the rice until it turns into a fine powder. The rice will absorb the oils and the residue.
- Discard the powder.
These steps should get the excess spices out of your machine. If the scent still lingers, use white vinegar. Pour a bit of this liquid on a paper towel. Then, wipe the grinder clean. This will take away most of the residual scent from a powerful spice, such as cumin.
Bonus Guide: Tips When Grinding Spices
Having the best spice grinder won’t necessarily turn you into a kitchen genius. You’ll need to use them properly to achieve the best results.
Here are a few tips to effectively grind spices and bump up your cooking game:
- Use a mortar and pestle when grinding small quantities of spices.
- You can intensify the flavor of a spice by toasting it. Make sure you do this before you place the spice in the grinder.
- When using an electric spice grinder, feel free to make spice mixes. If you’re going for a Tex/Mex flavor profile, grind fresh cilantro, warm cumin and spicy chiles. You can further elevate this by adding layers of herbs and spices, such as thyme, coriander, cinnamon and bay leaves.
Jars of pre-ground spices will never compare to the flavor of freshly ground. So, make sure that you buy whole spices and use a spice grinder to add extra taste and zest to any recipe.