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Apr 21, 2008 11:43 AM

Grinding spices

I have the urge to try to make some interesting spice blends. I have star it ok to grind up and use? Use the whole star, or just grind up the seeds.

What about bay leaves? Usually they are cooked whole and discarded. Is it ok to grind up fine and use?

Any fun ideas for spice blends?

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  1. Star Anise -- yup, grind up the whole thing.

    Bay Leaves -- absolutely.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Dmnkly

      I use star anise whole, primarily in Chinese stews (red-cook etc). If I were to grind it, I'd just use the seeds, not the hard pod. But that is based on just the impression that the real flavor is in the seed, not the pod. I may be wrong about that. Also the pod seems to hard to grind well, but I haven't tried doing so. Do you have enough star anise to experiment?


      1. re: paulj

        I just ground some star anise in a mortar and pestle. The hard pod is very difficult to grind but I wanted the flavour so used it all. Was making black beans.

        1. re: paulj

          In my experience, Paul, the seed tends to have a stronger flavor than the pod, but only on a relative scale. The pods of the star anise in my cabinet right now are quite potent. Especially since it's mostly pod anyway, I see no need to waste all that anise-y goodness :-)

          As far as grinding, I can see how it might be tricky with a mortar and pestle. I toast lightly in a pan and then toss them in a spice (coffee) grinder.

          1. re: Dmnkly

            I have a dedicated coffee grinder that I use only for spices. Does a more efficient job than mortar & pestle.

        2. I know that start anise gets ground into 5-spice powder. Bay probably gets ground into other spice blends. But they are both sort of unusual choices because using them whole and discarding is just so easy. It's not like peppercorns or cumin seeds that are virtually impossible to dig out of a finished dish.

          You might try spending some time going through the Penzey's site for inspiration.

          3 Replies
          1. re: renz

            "But they are both sort of unusual choices because using them whole and discarding is just so easy."

            If you're cooking them into something wet and stewey, sure. If you're dry-rubbing, not so much :-)

            1. re: Dmnkly

              Oh, touche. I must not dry-rub very often.

              1. re: renz

                And I'm looking to experiment with dry rubs, plus spice mixes to season slaws and salad dressings. And marinades. You probably wouldn't get the flavor out of a bay leaf whole, in a cold marinade.

                Plus I bought some different salt shakers and want to try to have some different spice mixes for the table.

          2. Spice lovers Note Bene:

            Star anise: when you use it whole, there's no need to remove the seeds, but if you are going to grind it, do NOT use ONLY the seeds, use the Whole pod (pericarp), even discarding the unnecessary seeds.


            All spice lovers should bookmark the full page of this guy. It's astounding.

            Bay leaf, yes okay to grind, but use less. Make sure you are not using "California Bay", a different species that has extractable toxins:


            The pericarp often holds the aromatic compounds. Katzer's page is a real gift to the spice junkie's fuller understanding of the field.

            6 Replies
            1. re: FoodFuser

              "use the Whole pod (pericarp), even discarding the unnecessary seeds."

              This is a great page, FF, but I think you misstate what's written there, and this is -- in any case -- demonstrably false. The seeds can pack quite a whallop of flavor. I haven't taken the time to taste the difference between seeds and pods in different batches of star anise, but speaking at least for the tub currently in my cabinet, both have great flavor, and the seeds are actually stronger.

              1. re: Dmnkly

                Sorry. Sometimes its seeds, sometimes seed coat, sometimes pericarp/pod, sometimes the peduncle. The nutmeg/mace dual offering is a great illustrator.

                Methinks we're all here just to seek and share advice, which often seems contradictory, but finally We all will Cook as we choose.

              2. re: FoodFuser

                Awesome link. I'll be spending a lot of time there.

                1. re: FoodFuser

                  foodfuser: superb link. thanks for the tip!

                  1. re: FoodFuser

                    The excellent star anise page you linked to is now at


                    and the bay leaf page is at


                    BTW I agree with Dmnkly; the seeds seem to have considerable clout.


                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      I know this is an old thread, but there's an important mistake in the page you reference. California Bay leaves are not poisonous, California Bay Laurel, sometimes mistaken for Bay leaves, are.

                    2. If you are going to the trouble of grinding whole spices, and you want to make some unique spice blends, I suggest reading up a bit on Indian cooking--there are lots of suggestions about which spices are good toasted, roasted, and then fresh ground. The flavored are really unique!