We are often asked:
“What is the best way to grind my own spices”?
Grinding spices yourself can be extremely rewarding, especially if you do so with a mortar and pestle so the aromas waft up as you crush the contents. Spices vary so much in size, hardness, texture and oil content that it is almost impossible to find a domestic grinder, other than a mortar and pestle, that will handle them all.
Seed spices, such as pepper, can be ground in a normal pepper mill. You can also use a coffee grinder, but electric grinders can generate excessive heat that can destroy some of the lighter volatiles, so don’t over-grind. Don’t try and grind hard spices like star anise, cinnamon, cassia and dried ginger slices in a coffee grinder, as they will damage the blades. Just think of how friable a coffee bean is, and remember that anything harder may cause a problem.
When it comes to all other spices, use the trusty mortar and pestle that has been one of the cook’s most useful implements for thousands of years. Believe it or not, the basic design of a mortar and pestle has not changed over millennia!
If you don’t want your coffee tasting of cumin and fenugreek, the easiest way to clean a grinder is to grind a spoonful of dry uncooked rice in it. Rice flour is gritty and cleans contact surfaces effectively while absorbing residual oils, leaving the mechanism quite clean. This will even work in a mortar and pestle that has become oily on the grinding surface.
Further useful facts are to be found in The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition, by Ian Hemphill published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.