Have you ever looked at a recipe that called for toasting and grinding whole spices and just...eyeballed the pre-ground stuff instead? Me, too. Not out of laziness or because I thought it didn’t matter. I did it because up until recently, I didn’t have a spice grinder.
Grinding your own spices is like grinding your own coffee beans: Real heads will tell you it’s the only way to go. Just as whole coffee beans stay fresher longer than the ground stuff, whole spices contain a ton of flavor and aromatic power that starts to fade the moment they’re ground. Toasting and blitzing cumin seeds right before you use them, for example, unlocks a depth and complexity that’s impossible to access with powder from a jar. I knew this, but a lack of proper equipment kept me and every chicken I ever roasted from accessing our full flavor potential.
Sometimes the pre-ground stuff is exactly what you need: quick, available, and flavorful enough, especially if it’s not the same jar you’ve had in the pantry since 2013. (Check the date!) But when you have the time and the right tools, starting from whole will turn even your dependable weeknight staples into something worth showing off.
I tested a few of the top-rated spice grinders on the market—three electric and three manual—to find the best in each category. To me, the right product would make quick work of whole spices (and maybe other things, too) and be easy to clean, an undeniably useful and straightforward addition to my kitchen arsenal. Read on for more about the models that came out on top.
The Best Electric Spice Grinder: Cuisinart Electric Spice-and-Nut Grinder
I knew from a speed and ease perspective that I’d likely prefer an electric grinder over a manual one, but the Cuisinart Spice-and-Nut Grinder delivered in more ways than I expected. First, it was insanely fast. I found that pressing the cup down rather than pulsing it created a fine, even powder out of any whole spice in mere seconds. It was relatively quiet, which I wasn't expecting, particularly because my coffee grinder sounds like a mechanical pencil sharpener with a megaphone. And it had the largest capacity of any grinder I tested, holding over twice as much as the other models.
The real reason the Cuisinart surpassed the competitors, however, was its ability to handle ingredients other than spices. Marketed as a "spice-and-nut" grinder, this model can handle up to ½ cup raw or roasted nuts, transforming them into virtually any consistency, from a rough chop to a fine flour. I loved being able to make my own almond meal in a flash, and had visions of creating personalized dukkah blends in just a few pulses.
Because the Cuisinart has a removable grinder cup rather than a fixed one, it’s very simple to clean. All of the removable pieces are dishwasher safe, and errant spices can be wiped from the base with a damp cloth. As with most electric grinders, running rice or bread through the Cuisinart also cleaned out any lingering specks of spices between batches. (Associate Editor Joe Sevier introduced me to the idea of making savory spiced breadcrumbs with the bread used to clean a spice grinder. Honestly, give the man a Nobel Prize.)
The Cuisinart Electric Spice-and-Nut Grinder earned its place in my kitchen by being truly versatile and bananas fast, the kind of product I could see myself pulling off the shelf for any number of reasons. For anyone who's curious about grinding their own spices who might also want a tool for chopping nuts or making nut flours, this model is ideal.
My Favorite Manual Spice Grinder: Kuhn Rikon Vase Grinder
If a low-tech spice grinder is more your speed, I recommend this vase grinder from Kuhn Rikon. Shaped a bit like the pepper grinders you can buy from the grocery store pre-filled with peppercorns, the vase has an easy screw-off top and wide mouth for funneling in whole spices. A dial at the top lets you indicate how coarse a grind you’re looking to achieve; the range is pretty wide, from very fine to big enough that whole cumin seeds fall through the gap, so be sure to adjust before you start grinding. I found that only the very finest setting was useful for me, as anything more coarse created crunchy, too-large pieces.
The downside of going the manual route is that grinding even a small amount of whole spices takes forever. If you’re not in a rush, this product absolutely gets the job done, but it requires quite a bit of effort. It took about five minutes of near-constant cranking to transform one tablespoon of cumin seeds into a wispy powder, which, at least to me, was more an aggravating wrist workout than a meditative repetitive task.
The good news: Cleaning the Kuhn Rikon Vase Grinder proved to be no big deal. The tool breaks down into four pieces to be washed by hand; the two that make up the actual grinding mechanism are beige rather than black, which makes it easy to see where spice bits have accumulated. I found a damp paper towel took care of whatever had built up in their ridges, and the vase itself was very easy to rinse clean.
Other Grinders I Tested
In my hunt for the best spice grinder, I rounded out my electric testing with the Secura Electric Coffee and Spice Grinder (featuring removable cups) and the KRUPS Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder (featuring a fixed cup), two of the highest rated products on the market. I found that the Secura grinder was generally a good pick; it turned the whole spices I tested into a fine powder in just a few pulses. I was intrigued by the two different cup attachments, one “grinder” and one “chopper,” the latter of which works like a mini food processor, blitzing nuts, onions, or bread into small pieces. However, the instructions state that the chopper cup isn’t leakproof and any liquid-releasing ingredients should be removed from the product as soon as they’re chopped to prevent damage, which was a little high maintenance for me. The grinder also can’t handle “hard nuts” or rice, meaning that with the Secura model, creating almond meal (or using rice to clean the inside) is off the table.
The KRUPS grinder took the longest of any of the electric grinders to turn one tablespoon of cumin seed into powder, about a minute of constant use. Its relative small size and narrow frame appealed to me from a storage standpoint, but the speed (along with the sound—nails on a chalkboard here) knocked it out. Also, this model doesn’t feature a removable cup; only the lid is dishwasher safe.
For the manual grinder category, in addition to the vase grinder, I also tried the well-regarded Frieling Cast Iron Spice Grinder and the Kuhn Rikon High Performance Ratchet Grinder. The Frieling was heavy duty and definitely leave-it-on-the-counter good looking, but I found that it was more effective at grinding large spices, like whole peppercorns, than smaller ones, like fennel seeds. It was also rather difficult to clean. The base ridges trap a lot of leftover spices, but because the tool is cast iron, it can’t be cleaned with soap and shouldn’t be filled with water. I’m not sure I’m willing to put the same work into maintaining my spice grinder as I am my trusty 12-inch cast iron skillet.
The ratchet-style grinder from Kuhn Rikon looks like an arcade game joystick, which is super fun, but overall it was not a good fit for the task of grinding spices. Because it only has one small opening for pouring in spices and does not unscrew, it is only suited for grinding a single item for its entire lifespan—it would make a good pepper mill, for instance, where you’re only ever adding more of the spice, never cleaning out or removing one spice to start grinding another. Also, the ratchet is a little awkward to handle, especially if you need more than a sprinkling of spice. For a finishing spice a few gear shifts is no big deal, but the back-and-forth motion is hard to maintain for a long period of time.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious