When you’re cooking, having wonderfully bright and tasty herbs and spices on hand makes for some of the best food that you could wish for. There’s a reason why a number of traditional recipes can for whole or freshly ground spices – the flavor is a lot more intense.
The reason that the flavor of freshly ground spices is more intense is the same as the reason that paint gives off that specific smell as it dries. The oils in spices (or in paint) are the thing that allows the flavor (or color) to be spread throughout a certain medium. This means that the oils are dispersed throughout ground spices, no matter what – they’re an integral part of the spice itself.
As spices or paint sit, however, the oils start to evaporate. This takes a long time, in most cases, but as the water in the air interacts with the spices, the oil starts to lose its potency, removing the flavors from the spices themselves.
So, with that in mind, you may have a desire to grind your own spices in your own kitchen, making sure that things are as bright and sharp as they could possibly be. In this article, we’re going to run through a few ways to grind spices if you don’t have a spice grinder to hand.
Mortar and Pestle
This is perhaps the most obvious item that you may have thought of, since it’s what people would have used, historically, when they didn’t have a spice grinder in their home. It’s ideal for crushing almost any kind of spice, either wet like fresh ginger or dry like pepper. To grind spices with a mortar and pestle, here’s what you have to do.
Start off by adding the required amount of spices to the mortar. Do not put too much in, as it’s liable to overflow. Place your less dominant hand over the top of the mortar to act as a lid, preventing the spices from jumping out.
Next, use the pestle to crush and grind the spices. The best way to do this is to press down with the pestle and twist, which will crack the spices open. Then, continue to pound and swirl the pestle around the bowl, as this will create a finer powder. Continue to work the mixture until the texture you want is there for you.
This process might not work for some fibrous options like cinnamon sticks, as they can be too tough for a grinder to properly reduce to powder, and must be dried first to become brittle.
Admittedly, this could be seen as cheating a little. A coffee grinder and a herb grinder are much the same as each other, though a coffee grinder is typically a little larger. Coffee grinders are ideal for grinding large spices such as cinnamon sticks or cumin seeds – they can be labor-intensive to do by hand, and a coffee grinder will remove a lot of the work.
Avoid using salt in a coffee grinder, as salt could result in the blades or burrs of your grinder rusting, a little.
First of all, remove the coffee from your grinder, otherwise, your spices will take on that flavor. Next, add the desired amount and type of spices to the coffee grinder, being sure to cover it with the lid. Make sure that the lid is properly attached to the grinder, as some grinders have safety features preventing them from being used while the lid is off. Therefore, having the lid attached is vital.
Mix the spices continually until the consistency is uniform – you may need to run the spices through the grinder a couple of times, so starting with some extra is ideal, as that will prevent you from having too little to cook with. Once you’ve achieved the ideal texture, remove the spices and cook with them. Next, clean the grinder thoroughly, as you’ll otherwise end up with a powerfully spiced cup of coffee – this is less than ideal.
A Microplane grater is very handy for larger spices such as cinnamon sticks or nutmeg. It is typically available in a range of spices, from exceptionally fine to very coarse – this is even handier, as a good set will allow you to define the size of the spices that you’re working with.
To get started, hold the grater itself upright over a plate or bowl, using a hand to keep it steady. Then, slowly glide the spice itself back and forth over the steel shaft on the grating side – this will remove tiny pieces onto the plate, which you can cook easily. Repeat this process until you’ve got the right amount of spices.
Be very careful not to scrape your fingers or knuckles over the holes in the grater – it’s typically much sharper than your average box grater, so it can cause some minor injuries very easily.
The main benefit of most Microplane graters is that they’re exceptionally portable, convenient, and useful no matter where they’re used. There are a number of cocktails, for example, that call for a small helping of a ground spice on top of the foam or other topping of the cocktail itself.
This means that when you’re using spices at your bar, you’d ideally need freshly ground ones for the best flavor possible. To achieve this, keeping a small stock of whole spices at your bar sitting next to a set of miniature Microplanes can be very, very useful. A great example of this is in the case of nutmeg, which can top a number of cocktails for a small, bright hit of flavor.
There are a number of different ways that you can bring some spice to your kitchen, but the majority of the best ways involve grinding your spices freshly to be sure of the most flavor in your food. We hope that this article has helped to provide you with a number of options you can use to bring the tastiest food and drink to your home as easily as possible.