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May 18, 2023 11 min read


Spices are an essential ingredient in the culinary arts, as they add a unique taste and aroma to our dishes. To extract the maximum flavor and aroma from whole, not ground spices, the traditional method of using a mortar and pestle grinder is highly effective. This ancient tool has stood the test of time and continues to be a favorite among chefs and home cooks alike.

In this guide, we will explore the art of using a mortar and pestle grinder to achieve the most potent spice blends. We'll also highlight some of the best whole spices to use and offer helpful tips to make your spice-grinding experience a success. Let's get started.


The Importance of Spice Grinding



lots of spices and a mortar and pestle
Credit: Envato Elements/ grafvision


Before we dive into specific spices, it's essential to understand why grinding whole spices can make such a significant impact on your cooking. When you buy pre-ground spices, you sacrifice a great deal of flavor and aroma, as the essential oils responsible for these qualities begin to evaporate once the spices are ground. This makes them less potent and stale, affecting the overall quality of your food.

In contrast, whole spices can retain their flavor and aroma for much longer, as the essential oils remain locked within the spice until it's ground. By grinding the spices with a mortar and pestle grinder, you can unlock these oils, ensuring that you get the most out of each ingredient. Additionally, you have the freedom to control the consistency of the grind, allowing you to achieve a coarse texture for strong dishes or a fine powder for delicate recipes.

The process of grinding your spices can also add a fresh and deep flavor element to your recipes, elevating them beyond what pre-ground or store-bought spice mixes can provide. By experimenting with different flavor combinations and controlling the intensity of each spice, you can create personalized and flavorful dishes that stand out. 


The Best Whole Spices to Grind with a Mortar and Pestle Grinder


 lots of spices in wood spoons

Credit: Envato Elements/ Nataliia_Pyzhova


Below is a list of 12 whole spices that are ideal for grinding with a mortar and pestle grinder :


1) Cumin Seeds 


Cumin seeds are an essential ingredient in many dishes, offering a warm and earthy flavor that's hard to resist. When ground using a mortar and pestle grinder, these seeds release their oils, resulting in an amplified and more robust flavor profile. For a delightful flavor explosion, consider combining ground cumin seeds with coriander seeds to create a flavorful spice blend. This blend works perfectly in homemade spice rubs or grilled vegetables, adding a bold and delicious taste to your dishes.


2) Coriander Seeds 


Coriander seeds are the dried fruit of the coriander plant and are known to provide a citrusy, slightly sweet flavor. They are a key ingredient in many spice blends, including Indian garam masala and Moroccan ras el hanout. When freshly ground using a mortar and pestle grinder, these seeds exude a more vibrant, nuanced taste than their pre-ground counterparts. 


3) Peppercorns


Pepper is an essential ingredient in every kitchen, and besides the commonly used black pepper, there are various types of peppercorns that are equally popular in dishes, such as white, green, and pink peppercorns. Using a mortar and pestle to grind peppercorns allows you to customize the coarseness of the grind to bring out the desired flavor and aroma of each type of peppercorn. This technique gives you complete control over the taste of your dishes and allows you to create a unique pepper blend that suits your preferences. 


4) Cardamom Pods 


Cardamom is a spice that can take both sweet and savory dishes to the next level. To extract the full flavor of cardamom, start by removing the seeds from the pods and then grinding them using a mortar and pestle grinder. Once you've ground the seeds, consider adding the freshly ground cardamom to desserts such as rice pudding or cookies to give them a fragrant, exotic twist. Alternatively, you can also use ground cardamom to add depth and complexity to savory dishes like curries and pilafs.


5) Cloves 


Cloves are the ultimate sweet and spicy treat. Grinding them with a mortar and pestle grinder unlocks their warm, slightly bitter flavor, which can elevate everything from meat dishes to sauces and desserts. Just remember, a little goes a long way, so use your freshly ground cloves sparingly to avoid overpowering your dish.


6) Mustard Seeds


Mustard seeds come in a rainbow of colors, from yellow to brown and black, each with its own flavor twist. Grinding them with a mortar and pestle creates an intense, zesty taste that's perfect for marinades, dressings, and spice blends. If you want to take things to the next level, try making your own mustard by combining freshly ground mustard seeds with vinegar, water, and your choice of seasonings.


7) Fennel Seeds 


Fennel seeds pack a sweet, licorice-like punch that's a game-changer in both sweet and savory dishes. Grinding them with a mortar and pestle grinder intensifies their aroma and taste, elevating your cooking to a whole new level. Freshly ground fennel seeds can be used to season homemade sausages, add depth to tomato-based sauces, or add a unique twist to baked goods like bread and cookies. 


8) Fenugreek Seeds


Fenugreek seeds have a unique maple-like aroma and slightly bitter taste that can add intrigue to your dishes. Grinding them with a mortar and pestle releases their full flavor, making them perfect for spice blends and pickles. Plus, fenugreek seeds have been used in traditional medicine for their potential health benefits, like aiding digestion and supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Talk about a win-win!


9) Allspice Berries 


Allspice is a fascinating little spice that tastes like a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Grinding allspice berries with a mortar and pestle grinder brings out their full spectrum of flavors, making them perfect for adding warmth to stews and pickling brines. Plus, they're great for giving baked goods like gingerbread and fruitcakes a cozy, spicy touch.


10) Nutmeg


Nutmeg is a versatile spice that adds warmth and sweetness to dishes like creamy sauces, rich desserts, spiced chai, and mulled wine.  Freshly ground nutmeg tastes far superior to pre-ground versions and can take your dishes to new heights of deliciousness. To unlock its full potential, use whole nutmeg seeds and grind them using a mortar and pestle grinder.


11) Saffron 


Saffron is a rare and expensive spice, obtained from the delicate stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower. It adds a touch of luxury to dishes like paella, risotto, and biryani, with its subtle earthy flavor and bright golden color. Although saffron is typically sold in thread form, you can use a mortar and pestle grinder to grind the threads gently into a fine powder, which releases their full aroma and color. Due to its high value, use saffron sparingly, as a little can go a long way in adding depth and sophistication to your dishes.


12) Cinnamon 


Cinnamon is a beloved spice that comes from the dried inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree. Its sweet, warm flavor makes it a staple in both sweet and savory dishes around the world. This spice is typically known as one of the toughest and hardest spices to grind, but with a mortar and pestle grinder and some elbow grease, you can unlock the freshest and most aromatic blend. Once you've finished grinding this tough spice, you can use it to add warmth to baked goods, enhance the flavor of your oatmeal, or give a delicious twist to savory dishes like stews and tagines. 


Which Mortar and Pestle Grinder Should You Use to Grind Spices?


 peppercorns in granite mortar and pestle

Credit: Envato Elements/ Alex9500


When selecting a mortar and pestle grinder for grinding spices, several factors should be considered, including the material, size, weight, and shape:


1) Material


Mortar and pestle spice grinders are made from a variety of materials, suited for different types of spices. Here are the most common materials of mortar and pestle spice grinders:


  • Ceramic:Ceramic mortars and pestles are suitable for grinding most spices but may struggle with harder ingredients like cinnamon sticks. Despite this limitation, this material provides a smooth and non-porous surface that is effortless to clean.
  • Granite: Granite mortars and pestles are a sturdy and heavy option that works great for grinding tougher spices and seeds. Their textured interior helps grip the ingredients, but they can be more challenging to clean and maintain.

  • Marble:Like granite, marble mortars and pestles are sturdy and suitable for grinding hard spices. However, they can be more expensive and require special care to avoid staining.

  • Wood:Wooden mortars and pestles are lightweight and often used for grinding softer spices or making pastes. They can absorb flavors and aromas, so it's essential to clean them thoroughly.


2) Size


Choosing the right size of mortar and pestle grinder depends on the number of spices you plan to grind. There are three main sizes available - small, medium, and large. The small size is perfect for grinding small amounts of spices or making pastes and typically holds up to one cup of ingredients. A medium-sized grinder is ideal for most home cooks as it can hold between one to two cups of ingredients, making it versatile enough to handle most grinding tasks. Lastly, a large mortar and pestle grinder is great for grinding larger quantities of spices or making spice blends. It can hold over two cups of ingredients, which is perfect for those who love to cook in large batches. 


3) Shape


When selecting a mortar and pestle grinder, the shape is another critical factor to consider, as it can impact the effectiveness of grinding spices. There are two types of shapes - round-bottomed and flat-bottomed. Round-bottomed spice grinders are suitable for grinding small amounts of spices, as their curved surface helps to keep the ingredients contained. However, they may not be the best choice for grinding larger quantities or tougher ingredients.

On the other hand, flat-bottomed mortar and pestle spice grinders are better suited for grinding larger quantities of spices. Their flat surface provides a stable base for breaking down spices, making it easier to achieve a consistent grind. These types of grinders are more versatile and can handle a wide range of spices, from soft herbs to harder ingredients like peppercorns or cinnamon sticks.


4) Consider the Weight of Your Pestle


The weight of your pestle also plays a significant role in the efficiency of grinding spices. A heavier pestle can make the process easier and faster, as it helps to crush and break down the spice more effectively. However, a lighter pestle may give you more control and precision when grinding a smaller or more delicate spice. To find the best pestle weight for your specific spice and grinding needs, it is recommended to experiment with different pestle weights and see which one works best for you. 


Tips for Grinding Spices with a Mortar and Pestle Grinder


chilis and spices and a persons hand crushing hot chilis

Credit: Envato Elements/ Prostock-studio


Grinding any type of spice with a mortar and pestle can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be a bit tricky if you're new to the game. To help you get the most out of your spice-grinding adventures, we've compiled a list of useful tips that'll have you crushing and grinding spices like a pro in no time:


1) Toast Your Spices First


To intensify the flavors and aromas of your spice, toast it in a dry skillet over low heat before grinding it in a mortar and pestle. This process releases the essential oils, giving you a more potent and fragrant result. Just be sure to keep an eye on your spice as it toasts to avoid burning it.


2) Break into Smaller Pieces


Some harder spices, like cinnamon sticks, cumin, or nutmeg, can be challenging to grind due to their size or hardness. To make your grinding experience easier, break these spices into smaller pieces using your hands or a pair of kitchen scissors. This will give you more surface area to work with and help the spices break down more quickly and evenly.


3) Grind in Batches for Larger Quantities


If you need to grind a large quantity of spices, it's best to work in batches. Overfilling your mortar can make the grinding process more difficult and result in an uneven consistency. By grinding spices in smaller, more manageable batches, you'll have better control over the process and achieve a more uniform texture. Plus, it's easier to combine the ground spice from multiple batches afterward, ensuring that the flavors and aromas are evenly distributed throughout your dish.


4) Be Patient and Apply Consistent Pressure 


Grinding spices requires a bit of patience and elbow grease. Apply consistent pressure with your pestle and use a circular grinding motion to crush the spice against the sides of the mortar. If you're working with a particularly tough spice like cinnamon, cumin, or nutmeg, it may take a little extra time to achieve the desired consistency, so don't rush the process.


5) Mix the Spice With a Pinch of Salt


A quick tip to break down spices more efficiently is to add a pinch of coarse salt to the mortar while grinding. The coarse salt acts as an abrasive, making it easier to grind spices faster. However, it is essential to be mindful of the additional salt added to your recipe. If you add too much salt during the grinding process, it may affect the overall flavor of the dish.


6) Sift and Re-grind, If Necessary 


After grinding your spice, you might find that some larger pieces remain. If you're aiming for a finer consistency, you can use a fine-mesh sieve to sift out the larger particles and then re-grind them in your mortar and pestle grinder. This will ensure a more uniform grind and help you achieve the perfect texture for your dishes.


7) Store Your Freshly Ground Spices Properly 


Once you've ground your spice to perfection, it's important to store them correctly to preserve their flavor and aroma. Keep your freshly ground spices in airtight containers, away from direct sunlight and heat. This will help protect them from exposure to air, moisture, and temperature fluctuations, which can cause them to lose their potency more quickly.


8) Clean Your Mortar and Pestle Thoroughly 


To prevent cross-contamination of flavors and ensure the purity of your freshly ground spice, it's essential to clean your mortar and pestle grinder thoroughly between uses. For most materials, a simple rinse with warm water and a gentle scrub with a brush or sponge should suffice. Avoid using soap, as it can leave behind residue that may affect the taste of your spice. If you're working with a porous material like unglazed ceramic or stone, you may need to use a paste made from rice or baking soda to remove any lingering flavors or odors.




Incorporating freshly ground spices in your cooking can take your dishes to the next level, providing a depth of flavor that pre-ground spices just can't match. And what better way to unlock the full potential of your spices than by using a mortar and pestle spice grinder? With this simple tool, you can easily grind whole spices to create culinary masterpieces that will impress your friends and family.

If you're looking for the perfect mortar and pestle grinder to use in your kitchen, check out Pepe Nero's granite mortar and pestle spice grinder. Made from high-quality granite, this mortar and pestle is a reliable tool for grinding and crushing your favorite spices, including nutmeg, cumin, and black pepper. Its heavy-duty construction and non-porous surface make it easy to use, clean, and maintain, while its sleek and stylish design adds a touch of elegance to any kitchen. Shop with Pepe Nero today to upgrade your spice-grinding game! 

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