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June 19, 2023 8 min read

When it comes to grinding spices, there are many other options waiting to be explored other than plain old black pepper, cumin, and coriander seeds. From seeds that you only see listed on pre-packaged blends to others so exotic that you've probably never even encountered, the world of spices offers a vast array of flavorsome possibilities. In this blog, we will take you on a spice-grinding adventure of unique spices you can grind. Let's get started.

 

The Magic of Grinding Your Own Spices

 

spices displayed on table
Credit: Envato Elements/ NoShanti

 

Before diving into the myriad of spices you can grind at home, let's first explore why grinding your own spices dramatically enhances their flavor. 

Spices contain volatile oils that are responsible for their characteristic flavors and aromas. However, like a fine perfume, these oils are fleeting; they begin to evaporate over time, leading to a decrease in the spice's flavor intensity and complexity. When you opt for pre-ground spices off the supermarket shelf, they've already been exposed to air for an uncertain duration. This exposure inevitably leads to a certain amount of flavor loss as those precious volatile oils gradually dissipate. The result? A spice that, while still adding flavor to your dishes, is a mere echo of its true, vibrant self.

In contrast, grinding your own spices changes the game entirely. You're essentially unlocking the spice's full potential right before you're ready to use it. The mechanical action of grinding breaks down the spice, releasing those volatile oils that are bursting with flavor and aroma. This not only ensures you're getting the maximum potency from your spices, but it also guarantees freshness. There's simply no comparison between a dish seasoned with freshly ground spices and one made with their pre-ground counterparts. 

 

Essential Tools for Crushing Ground Spices

 

pepper grinder with spices
Credit: Envato Elements/ lyulkamazur

 

Before you start grinding your own spices, it’s important to equip your kitchen with the right tools. The right grinder can make your journey into spice grinding both easier and more efficient. Here are some essential tools for spice grinding and how each can contribute to the quality of your homemade spice blends:

 

1) Mortar and Pestle

 

The mortar and pestle is a simple tool that has been used by various cultures throughout history to crush and grind ingredients into pastes or powders. Comprising two parts, the bowl-shaped mortar, and the club-shaped pestle, this manual grinder is perfect for handling small quantities of spices. 

Not only is a mortar and pestle a functional tool, but it also allows you to connect with your ingredients on a tactile level. You control the force, the grind size, and can experience the gradual release of aromatic compounds. It's both a tool and a culinary experience.

 

2) Spice Grinder

 

A dedicated spice grinder is an essential gadget for anyone serious about grinding their own spices. Available in both manual and electric forms, these grinders can quickly turn whole spices into finely ground powders. The main advantage of this gadget over a mortar and pestle is its ability to grind spices evenly and quickly, especially when dealing with harder spices that can be tiresome to grind by hand.

 

3) Coffee Grinder

 

If you love both coffee and cooking, you might already own a burr coffee grinder, which is excellent for grinding spices. It's especially helpful for achieving a consistent grind, which can be difficult to do with a blade grinder or a mortar and pestle. However, remember that flavors from spices can linger in the grinder, so unless you fancy a hint of cardamom in your morning coffee, it's recommended to have separate grinders for coffee and spices.

 

4) Microplane Grater

 

A Microplane grater is an excellent tool for your spice-grinding arsenal, especially for those who appreciate the precision. It is designed with a multitude of tiny, sharp blades that effortlessly slice through a variety of whole spices, transforming them into a fine powder or paste. It's easy to handle and perfect for when you need just a sprinkle of fresh spice. 

 

12 Unique Spices to Grind

 

spices splattered on table
Credit: Envato Elements/ westend61

 

Now that we've established the why and the how, let's delve into the what: the unique spices you should be grinding:

 

1) Szechuan Peppercorns

 

Unlike traditional peppercorns, Szechuan peppercorns aren't peppercorns at all but the dried berries of the prickly ash tree. These berries offer a citrusy aroma and a uniquely tongue-tingling, numbing sensation, a sensation often described as 'ma' in Chinese cooking. When freshly ground, they burst with vibrant flavors, adding a unique kick to your dishes that you simply can't get from the pre-ground version.

 

2) Star Anise

 

As beautiful as it is aromatic, Star Anise is a star-shaped spice often used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. This spice brings a robust, licorice-like flavor to dishes and forms the backbone of many Oriental recipes. Grinding it yourself releases its potent, fragrant oils, providing your dishes with a much richer depth of flavor than pre-ground star anise could ever offer. 

 

3) Grains of Paradise

 

A spice less known in the culinary world, Grains of Paradise comes from the ginger family. It has a warm, peppery flavor laced with citrusy undertones and adds a multifaceted depth to your dishes. Its complexity surpasses that of regular black pepper, allowing you to elevate your meals with a unique twist when ground fresh.

 

4) Fenugreek Seeds

 

Fenugreek is a staple in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. They have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that becomes more pronounced when the seeds are toasted and ground. They are best used in curries, stews, and other spicy dishes. 

 

5) Mustard Seeds

 

Available in yellow, black, or brown variants, mustard seeds pack a pungent and spicy punch. When ground fresh, their flavors are remarkably pronounced, making them a superb addition to homemade rubs, marinades, pickles, and curry mixes.

 

6) Ajwain Seeds

 

Often overlooked, Ajwain, or Carom seeds, are a common spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. They offer a complex flavor profile, tasting somewhat like a blend of thyme, anise, and oregano, but with a pungent twist. Grinding them fresh provides a unique taste and aroma that can transform your savory dishes.

 

7) Juniper Berries

 

Famous for their role in gin making, Juniper berries offer a fresh, slightly tart, and piney flavor. Crushing or grinding them just before use is crucial to maintain their fragrant, wild, and woody profile. They work especially well with game meats and hearty stews.

 

8) Black Cardamom

 

While green cardamom is more commonly used, black cardamom shouldn't be overlooked. It has a distinctly more smoky, robust flavor that works well in heavier, savory dishes and spice mixes like garam masala.

 

9) Allspice Berries

 

Despite the name, allspice is a unique spice, not a blend. It has flavors similar to clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Grinding it fresh will provide a fragrant, aromatic touch to your sweet and savory dishes, ranging from desserts to jerk seasonings. 

 

10) Dried Habanero Peppers

 

If you like your dishes hot, consider grinding your own habanero peppers. They have a fruity, citrus-like taste and intense heat. Just be careful while grinding, as they can irritate your skin and eyes.

 

11) Dried Lavender

 

Lavender isn't just for lotions and candles. It has culinary uses too, providing a slightly sweet, floral note to your dishes. When ground and added to recipes, it can enhance sweet dishes like cakes and scones or offer a lovely floral hint to your spice rubs for meats. 

 

12) Annatto Seeds

 

Used widely in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, Annatto seeds, or Achiote, bring not just flavor but color to dishes. They have a subtle, earthy, and peppery flavor, with a hint of nutmeg. Grinding them at home helps release their vibrant red color and unique taste that adds depth to various dishes like tamales and rice.

 

Safety Tips When Handling and Grinding Spices

 

spices in a mortar and pestle
Credit: Envato Elements/ Vikif

 

Spices add maximum flavor, depth, and complexity to your dishes. But while they may be a delight for your taste buds, handling and grinding them requires careful attention to safety. Here are some crucial tips to keep in mind:

 

1) Wear Gloves

 

It's crucial to wear gloves when handling and grinding hot or pungent spices like habaneros, or even mustard seeds. The oils from these spices can stick to your skin and cause irritation. These oils can be difficult to wash off and can cause painful discomfort if they come in contact with your eyes or sensitive areas of skin. Therefore, to ensure a safe grinding experience, always have a pair of gloves handy.

 

2) Ensure Good Ventilation

 

When you grind spices, they release fine powders that carry their concentrated aromas. In some cases, these can cause irritation to your eyes, nose, and throat. To prevent this, it's crucial to grind spices in an area with excellent ventilation. This can be under a kitchen exhaust hood or even near an open window. Good ventilation helps disperse the powders, reducing the chance of irritation. 

 

3) Be Aware of Spice Potency

 

Knowledge is your best friend when it comes to using spices. The potency of spices plays a vital role in flavoring dishes, but it also has safety implications. Some spices, such as nutmeg, can have hallucinogenic effects when used in large quantities. 

If you're experimenting with a spice for the first time or using a more potent variant, it's important to research it thoroughly. Knowing the effects, recommended usage and any potential risks ensure you use the spice safely and effectively. 

 

4) Beware of Allergies

 

Allergies can be a tricky landscape when dealing with spices. Certain people may have allergies to certain spices, which could trigger an allergic reaction. 

When grinding a spice for the first time, starting with small quantities is wise. Monitor for any adverse reactions like itching, burning, or discomfort. If you or someone in your household has a known allergy to a specific spice, it's best to avoid grinding it at home to prevent airborne particles from triggering an allergic response.

 

5) Spices Can Be Flammable

 

A little-known fact about spices is that in certain conditions (usually in a fine, airborne dust cloud), they can be highly flammable. While this is unlikely to happen in a home kitchen, it's another good reason to ensure proper ventilation and avoid the dispersion of spice dust into the air.

 

6) Check for Quality

 

Before grinding, always check the quality of the spices. Spices that have been improperly stored or that are past their prime can show signs of mold or even pest infestation. These are not safe to consume and should be discarded. 

Fresh, high-quality spices not only provide the best flavor but also ensure that your dishes are safe for consumption. Regularly inspect your spice collection and store them correctly to maintain their quality.

 

Summary

 

Grinding your own spices might seem intimidating at first, but it's a relatively simple process that can dramatically improve your cooking. As we've explored, there are several unique spices that are well worth the effort of grinding at home. Remember, the world of spices is vast and diverse. Don't hesitate to experiment with different spices and find what works best for your dishes.

Are you ready to dive into the world of freshly ground spices? Start your journey with the Pepe Nero Mortar and Pestle. Designed from high-quality materials, it's not just a tool - it's your companion in exploring the endless world of spices including cardamom, cumin, and even nutmeg. With its excellent grinding performance, you can easily unlock the deepest flavors of every spice. Shop with us today.


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