It’s easy: Buying whole and grinding as needed is the best way to get the most flavor out of your spices. Not so easy: Finding the right grinder. Popular solutions include a blade-type electric coffee grinder and an old-fashioned mortar and pestle like my Indian aunts still use. I wanted to find the best, most efficient grinder—especially for Indian cooking, lush with spices—so I put these two types to the test along with a third, an electric grinder designed specifically for spices. Which would hold up to the daily grind of my kitchen?
Here’s what I tested:
Krups Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder ($19.99, 3-ounce capacity)
KitchenAid Blade Coffee Grinder ($29.99, 4-ounce capacity)
Cuisinart SG-10 Spice and Nut Grinder ($35, 8-ounce capacity)
Milton Brook Range 4.5-Inch Unglazed Ceramic Mortar and Pestle ($29.41, 7-ounce capacity, technically, though in practical terms it’s more like 4 ounces)
To see how each grinder handled spices of different sizes, shapes, and degrees of density, I tested a basic spice mix (coriander, cumin, and black mustard seeds; peppercorns; cloves; and dried chiles). I tested each grinder’s ability to handle both a small amount (1 teaspoon) and a large amount (3 tablespoons) in a 30-second session.
Electric grinders come with two types of bowls: stationary (like the Krups), or removable (like the KitchenAid, pictured below, and the Cuisinart). For both types, you place the spices in the bowl, put the plastic lid in place, and press down to engage the blades.
How did they fare? When it came to performance, the Krups and Cuisinart were neck and neck for number one. Both produced a consistently fine powder with both large and small volumes of whole spices. The Cuisinart inched ahead slightly in spice retrieval, since it has a removable bowl. The Krups required a little banging and scraping with a spoon to get all the pulverized spices out—workable, though not ideal.
KitchenAid scored the lowest on both small and large volumes (it did slightly better with the large amount)—I ended up with large spice chunks in an otherwise fine powder. It also leaked out the sides and into the motor. It was not that fun to clean.
The mortar and pestle did a good job with the smaller volume, rendering a fine, even powder in a short amount of time. The larger amount was awkward, I’m not gonna lie (I was sweating), as spices spilled over the rim. It also took FOREVER.
When it came to cleaning, the KitchenAid and Cuisinart were the easiest. The Krups took a little more time (wipe down, grind raw rice to clean bowl and blades, wipe down again). The mortar and pestle was a breeze.
As for the stink test (I sniffed the grinder bowls after washing and air-drying), the Cuisinart was the stinkiest. The KitchenAid and mortar emitted only a mild spice smell, and the Krups was the least stinky, which leads me to think that grinding rice might be a good idea anyway, even for models with removable bowls.
And the winner?
The Cuisinart SG-10 Spice and Nut Grinder turned out to be the most versatile of the bunch. It was easy to use, worked well with small and large volumes of spices, and cleaned up relatively quickly. The Krups came in second, followed by the mortar and pestle, and the KitchenAid was last. All of which gave me even more respect for my aunts, loyal to their mortars and pestles. What a workout.
Photos by Chris Rochelle