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Mar 27, 2009 06:23 AM

Mortar and pestle or electric grinder?

I just placed an order with Penzey's for a bunch of spices/herbs. Included are celery seeds and mustard seeds.
If a recipe calls for ground spices, is is better to use a mortar and pestle to grind celery seeds or an electric grinder (I think most peole use a coffee bean grinder?) In either case, I will have to purchase either the mortar and pestle or grinder, so which is more useful and the wiser investment?

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  1. I have both and use the dedicated coffee grinder far more often for that kind of task. My mortar and pestle is quite a small one (I probably should have bought a larger one, but didn't have anyplace for it to live) so seeds tend to jump out of it.

    19 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      I've been thinking about this for a while. If I used a coffee grinder, could I get everthing out of it so that when I grind something else I won't get flavors from one into the flavor of another? Did I describe that alright? :)

      1. re: c oliver

        Sure, just clean it. ALthough I probably would have a separate one for coffee beans and one for spices.

        1. re: c oliver

          I grind some white rice in it after using it for spices, and then a little coffee as well.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Ah, so you use one for both coffee and spices? I really like that idea. Compared to NYC apts. I have more room, but don't like single purpose gadgets.

            1. re: c oliver

              Yes, I wipe out the coffee grinder and than grind a few sacrifice coffee beans to clean.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I have to confess to drinking Nescafe during the week, so I just throw in some instant coffee into the grinder.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  So do last, evidence that a devotion to good food and instant coffee can dwell in the same heart!

                  But i'll bet you are not quite as guilty as I am: I add Carnation evaporated milk, a legacy from my Scottish Grandmother-this causes my husband to cringe as he does the genuine espresso thing with freshly ground beans!

                  1. re: LJS

                    And, I'm reading a biography of Elizabeth David (highly recommend) and she would bring a thermos of Nescafe to bed with her, to drink in bed in the morning when she arose.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Don't know if you recall, but I admitted to whiskng up a strong dose of Nescafe, bit of brown sugar, and a bit of milk prior to my daily workouts at the gym and running.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Yes, that does ring a bell, actually!

                  2. re: MMRuth

                    You may want to consider this:


                    I met my husband over 20 years ago and he was using the Toddy system then and we still are. We love it. So easy if you just want one cup in the morning. It freezes great also. And we carry it with us in a camping bottle when we travel.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      The toddy is very handy (perfect for iced coffee, too), but coffee made this way definitely has less case the caffeine is the point.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        I knew it had less acid (a plus) but didn't know about the caffeine. I'm generally a one cup a day gal and by the time I put my Splenda and whipped cream (!!!!) in it, I'm happy, happy. And my basic personality really doesn't need any more caffeine :)

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Done that: just ground beans and cold water in a jar over night in the ref.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I have a great KitchenAid coffee grinder, which unfortunately appears not to be made anymore (but like this: ) The stainless steel "bowl" where the coffee or spices go lifts off the grinder completely so it can be washed (it can even go in the dishwasher).

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        I just bought a Kitchenaid grinder with the removable/washable bowl. Works incredibly well--I ground up 4 cups of chili powder in about 5 minutes--usually would have taken me an hour of fussing with my old one.


                        1. re: zamorski

                          I'm glad to hear this is still being sold somewhere (it didn't showup in the product lineup on KitchenAid's US site). It's such an obvious, useful feature. Mine was a gift, and I've been recommending it ever since I received it six or more years ago.

                  3. re: c oliver

                    Usually, I just wipe it out with a damp cloth and have never been aware of any transfer of flavors from one batch to another. That said, when I've ground something unusually heady or very spicy, I'll put about a quarter cup of dry rice in the grinder and let 'er rip for 30 seconds or so. Cleans the grinder of anything that might have remained in it.

                2. The mortar and pestle is more versatile than the spice grinder. You can grind spices with the mortar and pestle but you can also make pesto or other things that take liquid which you can do with a spice grinder but the downside is that if you are grinding a lot of spices on a regular basis it will take you more time and muscle.

                  1. If you're primary use case is to grind whole spices, go with the electric grinder. I use it for whole spices, chiles, etc. The M&P is more versatile, and there are some things that devotees will tell you absolutely need a M&P, but for grinding cumins seeds, mustard seeds, etc., use the electric.

                    1. Although I have a designated spice grinder, I have been searching for the perfect mortar and pestle for quite some time. Because I don't have one I end of smooshing garlic, salt and oil on a board to make a paste for most dishes. I think that m&p would do a far better job and contain it. I'd also be able to drop in additional items, like lemon grass, and herbs. Mix in more oil and see what I got. I'm in the camp that a grinder is perfect for dried spices, and when there's liquid coming into play whether from the ingredient or add ins, that you should have the m&p too.
                      The one I'm liking is the new one from Curtis Stone, a nice handle where you have some control...

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        Oh! That is just gorgeous! But $200 for a mortar and pestle? I don't think so. What's your second choice?

                        1. re: JoanN

                          I need the handle, I think it would be just so much easier to use.
                          Besides I'm a whimp. if there is another one out there... Nigella's looks as though you could hang on but I prefer the other.

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            I have the weakest hands of any person I know who doesn't have a true disability. But the traditional m&p works fine for me. The shape of the one you referred to seems counterproductive. And I think Sam's comment regarding the size ratio between the mortar and the pestle is excellent. Never thought of that.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              You know me neither... And he has great point. I was also imagining you know how you use the pestle, it should have a fair amount of interior room so that you can really move it around if need be. Perhaps, I need to really rethink this. I sure wasn't happy about the cost, I could care less about Curtis Stone, but I'm not amxious to waste money on another useless kitchen gadget.
                              The slick bottoms on the marble, and in watching people on tv use them, looks to be diffficult. I'm not really strong, even grating a huge block of cheese with a hand grater can give me problems.
                              Thanks for talking about this, I'll keep checking on the thread to see if perhaps I can find the right one.

                            2. re: chef chicklet

                              I put one of those rubber mats that you can use to put under a hot pan on the counter under my M&P so that it doesn't slide around, if that is of any help.

                        2. I use a wooden mortar and pestle from Peru. The trick is getting a pestle with a head almost the size of the mortar bowl. Small / narrow pestles are worse than useless and result in all the spices jumping out of the mortar.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I see all these mortar and pestle combinations that seem to have smooth, polished surfaces. That striikes me as counterproductive for the grinding, but easier for the cleaning of the mortar and pestle afterward.

                            On the other hand, I have seen Mexican mortar and pestles that are made out of volcanic rock and seem admirably abrasive but I wonder about the rock breaking off and creating grit in the spice, as well as wonder how difficult it would be to clean, due to the large, porous holes.

                            Sam's comment about the size of the pestle relative to the size of the mouth of the mortar (the bowl) seems right on and something I had never thought of. So, what kind of mortar and pestle combination should I look for? What should the device be made from and how big should it be (assuming I am only planning on buying one)?

                            1. re: gfr1111

                              My wooden m & p has a fairly deep bowl and about a 5" mouth. The pestle head diameter is greater than half the diameter of the mounth. I have a couple of the Mexican volcanic rock m & p's. Ground stone is not a problem. Cleaning after dry ingrediants is done with a stiff little broom made of some unknown crinkly thin stalks made for the purpose. Finally I have a Mexican ceramic mortar with cross hatching inside (kind of like a crude Japanese mortar) in which you grind vegetables directly in the bowl.

                              1. re: gfr1111

                                My husband has had a molcajete (Mexican mortar and pestle) for many years. The surface smooths over time yet remains wonderfully abrasive. We use it for both wet and dry grinding. Spices can easily be ground as fine as a powder. It's incredibly easy to clean. You just poor warm water in it to rinse it. If you still smell the traces of what you've just ground in it, put some rice in it and grind it once it's dry. I don't know how I ever lived without it.

                                If you want an alternative with a slightly less abrasive surface that still has texture, consider a Japanese suribachi.

                                1. re: agoodbite

                                  You may want to check this where I asked about what turned out to be a suribachi. I have not been pleased with the results at all.