Earlier this week, we talked about the benefits of grinding whole spice. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll need one of two tools.
Some time ago, I introduced you all to a dear friend of mine, the molcajete, or Mexican mortar and pestle. Grinding spices with a molcajete takes more time and patience, as does anything by hand. It can also be a little tricky, as the hard stone tejocote that you grind with sometimes has a tiddly-wink effect and causes the rounded seeds to jump or to ricochet across the room. That said, it can be the superior choice. Here’s what I wrote about it back then:
“Grinding spices [with a molcajete] allows you to gently release their flavors without overworking them, resulting in a more fragrant and robust product. The grain has a handmade character: chunkier, less uniform.”
The more pragmatic choice, especially if you plan to make grinding a regular part of your cooking, is a propellor grinder, the same kind you use for coffee. Aside from being faster and easier, the grinder works better for spices that are hard to break up with a pestle, like big, barky cinnamon sticks. Check out this post for details on using one.
One thing I didn’t cover in detail in that post, which deserves mention, is how to clean your grinder (well.) This is important because even the faintest bit of lingering cumin can muck up your next batch of whatever’s next.
There are a couple of ways to do this. Use a paper towel to wipe away as much of the spice residue as you can, then use a stiff dish brush, the rough side of a damp sponge, or both to get into harder-to-reach cracks and crevasses.
Or, for a deeper clean to scrub away more potent oils and aromas, run a few tablespoons of coarse salt or rice through the grinder and then discard. This is a great thing to do every few months for maintenance.
I haven’t listed spice mills here—not because I don’t think they’re a good option, just because they’re better for hand-grinding single servings or small amounts of spice (otherwise you might wear your wrist right off!)
Whichever way you choose to grind, remember to use your spices as quickly as possible and to store them well for longer keep!