Using fresh, quality spices is one of the easiest ways to transform a good-enough dish into something exquisite. But how can you be sure that the spices you add will deliver the ultimate flavor punch?
"Keep everything whole for as along as possible," advises Amanda Bevill, owner of World Spice Merchants in Seattle. "Then grind your own."
Grinding your own demands tools, of course. So, what's the right tool? Here are four expert-recommended tools to help you get the most flavor out of your spices.
1. Mortar and Pestle
Humans have been using mortars and pestles to pulverize herbs and whole spices for thousands of years and some retailers, like San Francisco's Spicely Boutique, still recommend this ancient approach. Crushing releases a fuller range of essential oils and flavors compared to the chopping motion of an electric grinder, and with no nooks and crannies to trap food particles, mortars and pestles are relatively easy to clean.
Plus, a set in clay, granite, or marble can serve as an attractive countertop accent if you've got the space.
3 Mortars & Pestles to Try
2. Microplane Grater
Another low-tech option for tackling larger whole spices like nutmeg and cinnamon stick is a Microplane grater. Microplane sells attachments that allow you to grind smaller, pebble-sized items by hand. All Microplane parts can be tossed in the dishwasher, and then tossed in a drawer, making storage in a small and/or overcrowded kitchen no big deal.
3. Manual Coffee Grinder
For faster grinding, or for processing larger quantities of spices, nothing beats a dedicated coffee grinder, according to Ben Walters, owner of North Market Spices in Columbus, Ohio. If you're drawn to the old-school charm of a manual grinder, Walters suggests choosing a model with an adjustable head to produce a variety of textures.
As with the mortar and pestle, hand-crank models can also be decorative, provided "quirky retro" suits your style. We like the glass-and-brass looks of this Japanese mill from Hario (pictured).
4. Electric Coffee Grinder
For most cooks, an electric coffee grinder is going to be the most practical. But with dozens and dozens on the market, how do you choose?
The Silk Road Spice Merchant in Calgary, Canada, sells just one model on its website: the KRUPS Coffee and Spice Grinder ($18 at Amazon), a compact, affordable model that boasts a powerful motor so that the grinder doesn't overheat and damage your spices. The KRUPS can be wiped clean, and processing some dry rice or bread chunks will remove any residual odors.
At World Spice Merchants, Amanda Bevill and her team swear by the KitchenAid Spice Grinder, a slightly larger unit that comes with two removable grinder cups for easy cleanup and insurance against cross-contamination. This is the grinder to buy if you want just one appliance to handle your coffee and spice needs, provided you can afford to spend just a little bit more. Ben Walters at North Market Spices concurs, naming the KitchenAid Grinder as one of the best on the market.
Do you cook with whole spices? What's your favorite method for grinding?