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Grinding your own spices


Fat Guy
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After a few years of trying every other solution, I've recently returned to grinding my own spices. This task falls into the category of "kitchen inconveniences that are worth it."

I don't care where you get them (Penzey's, Kalustyan's, some magical little shop with extremely high turnover) or what you do with them (freezer, Food Saver, both), pre-ground spices just don't have the same force or range of flavors and aromas as spices ground just prior to use.

Two nights ago, I made two batches of lentils, one with the pre-ground spices and one with spices ground on the spot. (I used cumin, coriander, allspice, cardamom and black peppercorns in roughly equal parts.) The difference was dramatic -- so much so that there would be little point in bothering with a blind challenge. As could have been predicted, the fresh-ground spices were more powerful. So, in gradually seasoning the batches, I wound up using less. Yet, even with a smaller quantity of spices, that batch had far more vibrant flavors and, especially, aromas. This was the case even after reheating the following day.

In terms of time invested, the mini coffee mill makes grinding the spices a 10-second operation. That barely counts. The main time commitment is keeping the device clean, which seems to be nearly impossible.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In terms of time invested, the mini coffee mill makes grinding the spices a 10-second operation. That barely counts. The main time commitment is keeping the device clean, which seems to be nearly impossible.

And that's the beauty of the sumeet (which I know is hard to get ahold of) - it goes in the dishwasher.

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See, I've been trying to justify a Sumeet, but couldn't convince myself that I needed another bulky item in my kitchen. But now you tell me that it's dishwasher safe! Sold, sold, sold...

Now the trick is to get one - just buy the Asia and you'll have it. Don't hold out for the Multigrind.

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I agree - it's totally worth one's while to grind one's own spices. Also don't forget that toasting them lightly (either in a pan or even in the microwave) prior to grinding significantly improves the flavours and aromas.

Re:Cleaning, I was thinking about this the other day as I was preparing to grind some cinnamon for banana bread, I've decided that all I need to do is wipe the Coffee grinder bowl as best I can with a kitchen towel. Any trace elements of other leftover spices just add a little "je ne sais quoi" to the item. Many, many of the spices work well together and certainly don't detract from the main flavour in small trace amounts.

Anyway that's my thinking to free myself from the tyranny of endless spice grinder cleaning!...

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The main time commitment is keeping the device clean, which seems to be nearly impossible.

Steven, try grinding some rice or better yet instant rice. It won't clean the lid of the blade grinder as well as you would like but it will clean the grinding bowl. Soap and water to the lid will help keep that part clean. If you clean on a regular basis it is not so daunting of a task. I grind a lot of cumin in mine and the lid is permanently etched in cumin.

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The main time commitment is keeping the device clean, which seems to be nearly impossible.

Steven, try grinding some rice or better yet instant rice. It won't clean the lid of the blade grinder as well as you would like but it will clean the grinding bowl. Soap and water to the lid will help keep that part clean. If you clean on a regular basis it is not so daunting of a task. I grind a lot of cumin in mine and the lid is permanently etched in cumin.

A small piece of old bread works well too.

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Unlike a coffee grinder, the modest sized grinding bowl of a dedicated nut and spice grinder such as the Cuisinart actually detaches and is easily washed, plus the whole operation seems to have fewer nooks and crannies for ground spices to stick. It's a bit more of an investment that just getting a second small coffee mill, but it's use for making small quantities of ground or chopped nuts or even flours is a bonus. The Cuisinart retails for something like $49 and I am guessing the blade will last longer than the blade in a coffee grinder. It's really a great gadget, and I'm not gadget-mad. In my opinion works far better for spices and very hard seeds or grains than a coffee mill.

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The main time commitment is keeping the device clean, which seems to be nearly impossible.

Steven, try grinding some rice or better yet instant rice. It won't clean the lid of the blade grinder as well as you would like but it will clean the grinding bowl. Soap and water to the lid will help keep that part clean. If you clean on a regular basis it is not so daunting of a task. I grind a lot of cumin in mine and the lid is permanently etched in cumin.

A small piece of old bread works well too.

Beat me to it!

Its not at all hard to keep a spice grinder adequately clean.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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The absolute best (and easiest) way to clean the mini spice grinders is with two tablespoons of baking soda and two or three saltine crackers broken up just a bit.

Place the top on, start the motor and shake and invert the grinder a few times while it is running.

Dump out the mixture and wipe clean with a dry paper towel.

The soda will remove oily residue and will also remove any taste or odor of coffee, spices or ????

I have posted this recommendation several times in the past and folks who have tried it find that it works.

You can use rice with the soda, if you wish, but in my opinion the regular use of rice will dull the blade.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I just use a small mortar & pestle. (well, not the smallest out there, it's 5" tall, the bowl is 3" deep and 3.5" wide) I got it 16 years ago for under $10, at World Market, it's made of black marble and cleans up fast. It sits right next to the stove, and is always ready to go.

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If it's used ONLY for spices, then no big deal...a quick wipe - just make sure the damn thing is unplugged.

I've had the same old Braun whirly bird for probably 10 years and still works like a charm. As a matter of fact, I just checked and it is a model that was Made in Mexico.

If it's used for spices AND coffee - well, then it shouldn't be. Why would you want to ruin both your coffee and your spices?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Lisa, I've never been able to get spices ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle. Am I doing something wrong, or do you use a coarser grind for your spices?

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Yeah, no comparison. I get all the spices whole whenever possible (i still buy ground cinnamon because grinding it's a pain).

For small quantities I like a mortar and pestle. For bigger ones I'll use an old coffee mill. I find the machine only saves time if I'm doing a big pile, because it's harder to clean.

Notes from the underbelly

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I use a small mortar and pestle from Ikea, $10 I think. It doesn't get as fine a grind as a grinder, and I still use a spare coffee grinder for larger quantities or for cinnamon. But I don't mind the coarser texture as I am mostly cooking items like stews and curries with those spices. I do buy ground cinnamon, alspice and ginger for baking, but I buy the smallest amounts of Penzey's and have no problem using it up. Everything else is whole, and I make my own blends in quarter cup quantities and store them for convenience.

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Lisa, I've never been able to get spices ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle. Am I doing something wrong, or do you use a coarser grind for your spices?

I am able to get cumin and other seeds to a powder, what I tend to use is a bit coarser, but that also depends on how long I work on it. For curries, I usually just break things down a little and move on. Herbs have not been an issue, even rosemary breaks down pretty quickly. With dry chiles, I have been able to get an extremely fine powder. I recall once that I made a confection where the chile was so fine that in the final sugary product, people didn't call the dessert spicy, they exclaimed that had an effervescent sensation on their tongues. My mortar is fairly heavy, making grinding easier. And, I have noticed a difference between it and its smaller predecessor (which still grinds green tea for the husband) which is made of soapstone. The larger marble one is faster and makes finer powder. My guess is that harder rock yields a finer powder.

I use a grater, the cool new mini-microplane nutmeg grater, for nutmeg. For cinnamon I use the fine microplane and the mortar and pestle.

This is all at home. The health department here hates mortar & pestles and stone ones are not allowed in a commercial kitchen. I have seen stainless ones and been meaning to try one for a while, but, keep forgetting.

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A wonderful Indian chef taught me to grind my own spices some years ago, and I've never looked back. (Never tasted back?)

A little stiff brush, which is sold for coffee grinders at some coffee stores (Peet's Coffee around where I live) will do the trick of cleaning out spices.

Or, you can do this: Grind the spice as you normally do, then grasping onto the lid, turn the grinder upside down, and pulse a couple times. The spices will fall into the lid, which serves as a cup. There's still some residue around the blade, but it's handy to have most of the spices removed from the grinder. I was apprehensive about damaging the grinder when someone taught me this technique, but so far my grinder is fine.

If you toast your spices before grinding, make sure they are somewhat cool before grinding. Someone told me that toasted spices straight from the pan to the grinder can melt those plastic lids. (And she spoke from experience.)

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Hi

Not a shill for Ikea but they have a pepper grinder that sells for about $11. It is adjustable for grain size and has one other redeeming feature. You have to invert it to grind the contents. This means when you put it back on the table or counter there is no traces of what you just ground.

Cheers

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I use a small kitchen aid coffee grinder for spices. The base comes off and I put it in the dishwasher. Been doing it for years and haven't noticed any damage to the blade.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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  • 1 year later...

It may just be my inner gadget geek but in spite of the unfavorable review and exorbitant cost, I'm thinking about getting a Chroma Titanium Spice Grinder: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/2902450/?cm_src=RCP

I like that it is dishwasher safe (the whole unit?) and lever manual not twist.

What are some comparable manual options for grinding small quantities of spices? Maybe a mini brass turkish coffee/pepper mill?

"The main thing to remember about Italian food is that when you put your groceries in the car, the quality of your dinner has already been decided." – Mario Batali
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Grinding your own spices is definitely worth the effort. I do it all the time for Indian dishes or for gingerbread.

Just make sure to not grind cloves in your electric coffee or spice grinder. They damage plastic. My grinder's lid (Braun) is now opaque and covered in clove oil residue which does not come off.

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I typically use my mortar and pestle for grinding spices. I give my spices a good toast to wake up the flavors and dry it out to make a finer grind. I do have a small coffee grinder in a pinch or when I am lazy. I wipe is out with a damp paper towel between uses.

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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