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Sep 30, 2012 08:01 AM

Your experience with grinding spices in a mortar and pestle?

I've been having trouble grinding things like fennel seeds, star anise, coriander, and whole cloves in my grandma's mortar but I just blame it on it being too small and smooth to be effective without everything flying out. I was thinking of buying my own bigger mortar and pestle and was deciding between a marble mortar, a molcajete, or a thai granite one, in hopes that its just my grandma's mortar. If you suggest I dont use one for this purpose, I was thinking of a manual spice mill with a ceramic mechanism (Im looking at the Spice Boy by Oliver Hemming
Im actually leaning towards some type of mortar and pestle as i like the versatility as I can use it for pestos, pastes, guacamole, ect. But like i said, im not sure if it would be effective, especially if i wanted to grind things to a powder. I realize many people use the Krups electric coffee grinders for this purpose but honestly, im not too excited about the Krups as I know when it comes to pepper mills, mechanical ones are superior so Im thinking it may be the same for spice grinders. Plus, I dont drink coffee.

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  1. I've always used a mortar and pestle for spice grinding.

    1. i got a small one for last xmas (maybe holds a cup or two) and it is great...i used it to bash up fresh thyme and salt

      1. You don't have to be a coffee drinker to use the Krups (or anyone else's) electric coffee grinder. It's OK to purchase one for the exclusive purpose of grinding spices. I used a mortar and pestle for some time and, except for the exercise opportunity it provided, found no true benefit. I have two Krups coffee grinders. each of which cost under $20. I use one for spices that I might select for baking (cinnamon, Anise, etc.) and the other for more savory spices (e.g Cumin). I have a special grinder that I use exclusively for nutmeg. The mortar and pestle are cute kitchen decorations but they're, IMO, 19th century tools that do little more than add to the time necessary for preparing a meal.

        3 Replies
        1. re: todao

          Agreed, although it does depend on the seed and the m&p. I have one in marble that is good for bruising fresh herbs, but is worthless when it comes to someting like cardamom. I still use the m&p for cardamom only. It's a family tradition thing and it sure smells nice while you're grinding. Bottom line, I don't want to work that hard.

          1. re: grampart

            Agreed - for bruising spices and herbs before using them whole there is perhaps no better tool than the mortar and pestle. But, again IMO, the mortar and pestle is not the tool to use for "grinding" spices. Thanks for taking it to another level. My bad for failing to do that.

            1. re: todao

              I agree. I bought my M+P at a medical supplier -- durable and inexpensive. I also want a molcajete, but for grinding I use a Krups.

        2. It might be your technique. When I'm grinding seeds, I start out by just tapping them lightly until they break up a bit. This takes quite a while, but if you don't do this, they will fly out. Then once they're broken up, I exert more pressure until they are thoroughly crushed or ground. I use a mortar and pestle for smashing garlic, grinding fennel, cardamom (smash first to remove pod), whole cloves, peppercorns (when I only need a few), etc.

          I have a couple of mortars and pestles, but prefer the marble one as it doesn't retain flavors or smells.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Isolda

            that is excellent advice regarding technique. Many thanks.

          2. I must have had three or four mortars and pestles and at least one molcajete over the years and I wasn't happy with any of them until I bought the Fresco granite mortar and pestle pictured here ( ) It's not only stunning to look at, it's a real pleasure to use. Although I've always had a dedicated coffee grinder for spices, I find I use the mortar and pestle far more frequently now. I especially like crushed but not pulverized spices in Asian cooking. Even if a recipe calls, for example, for ground cumin, I'll crush it in the m&p instead, preferring both the flavor and the texture than that produced by the grinder..