13 Common Spices You Can (Cannot) Grind in Your Salt and Pepper Grinder
Pre-ground pepper must be one of the most, boring, most blah spices on earth, don’t you agree? It can’t hold a candle to freshly ground pepper, in taste, aroma, and spiciness. There is nothing more flavorful in a bowl of hot soup than a dash of freshly ground pepper. Nothing compares to the aroma of it blending with other ground spices in Irish stew, or any kind of roast. It’s delicious, healthy and has a whole lot of uses. What more could you ask for in a spice?
We know buying pepper pre-ground is convenient, but once you buy a grinder and grind your own, there’s no going back! Pre-ground pepper stays fresh for about three months, but then it begins to lose its vibrant flavor and aroma. And don’t forget — before you purchased it, that ground pepper may have been on the grocery store shelf for a while. By the time it got to you, the pepper has been through a lot — harvesting, processing, manufacturing, and bagging. So the store-bought ground pepper you’re hoping will jazz up your stew has actually been around for months. Doesn’t sound so appetizing now, does it? That’s why chefs of all culinary traditions use freshly ground pepper, never pre-ground. It bursts with flavor and aroma, while pre-ground pepper just sorts of limps along, unable to jazz up much of anything.
Now, the same principle applies to lots of other spices, too. You buy them pre-ground, and they just don’t have the ability to boost a recipe into fabulousness the way freshly ground spices do. They’ve been sitting on shelves, just like pre-ground pepper has, yet lots of people buy them. Why? Because lots of folks don’t realize you can use your pepper grinder for them, too. Your grinder isn’t just for grinding pepper anymore! There are plenty of other spices you can buy fresh and grind at home, and voila! Big flavors and wonderful aromas wafting through your kitchen. Now, just so you know, for this it’s best you use a mill with a ceramic grinder, not a stainless steel one because some spices might corrode the carbon steel — and we wouldn’t want that, right?
In order to make you understand, we’ve tested 13 common spices using a pepper grinder with a ceramic burr. We’ve already recorded a video for you, so take a look!
Easy to Grind
Because of different factors such as weight, size, shape, etc., these spices and herbs work well in a grinder. So, buy a little, grind it up, and see for yourself the difference fresh spices make to just about any recipe you’re tackling.
Parsley is very easy to grind because it’s light. Just make sure you thoroughly dry it after washing, so it doesn’t clump in the grinder. Once you’ve ground it, just lightly blow on the grinder to empty out the bits of parsley, but don’t blow too hard, or you’ll end up with parsley bits all over you! This is a wonderful herb that adds flavor and punches to lots of recipes, everything from soups to appetizers, main courses to healthy snacks. It’s quick and easy to grind this fresh, green herb.
This spice “behaves” a lot like parsley in your grinder, because it’s light and quite small. The oregano falls easily from the grinder when you’re finished, and adding new leaves for a second batch in the grinder is a cinch. A note of caution, however: be sure your grinder is set on “fine” before proceeding, or the leaves might just fall out. You’ll notice a wonderful, weightier scent coming from the oregano when it’s freshly ground — it’s heavenly!
Because crystal sugar is quite hard, it can make the knob on the spice grinder loosen easily, so be aware of that. Put the knob on whatever grind setting you to feel is best, but be sure it’s not on the tightest one because that can prevent you from getting a smooth grind. Furthermore, keep checking the adjustable knob as you’re grinding, because it is going to loosen, and you don’t want crystal sugar spilling all over the counter!
This spice is a breeze to grind in your grinder. Choose the setting that’s right for your recipe — does it require fine or coarse cumin? — and get grinding! Cumin cannot be completely ground no matter how hard you try, so there are going to be some bits and a few pieces of slightly varying sizes. Also, cumin may clump a little after its ground, but just like oregano and parsley, it’s easy to keep refilling the grinder. Also, just like oregano and pepper, cumin has a wonderful, pungent odor when it’s freshly ground — you’ll be amazed at the difference between freshly ground cumin and pre-ground, just like freshly ground pepper and pre-ground are worlds apart.
Use it Occasionally
All the spices we just mentioned take well to your grinder, but there are some aspects of each one that affects how much time it takes to grind each one. If you’ve got the time, you won’t regret grinding your own fresh spices, but if you’re crazy busy, you may not want to do this every day. In that case, save using your grinder for these for a special recipe, when a company is coming over, or you’re celebrating a special event at home. You may not be able to do it all the time, but when you can, you’ll be very glad you took the time and care needed to grind spices yourself.
A lot of seeds adapt well to your grinder, even though it’s something you may not have considered before. Set the grinder on “coarse” when doing pumpkin seeds, and be willing to invest a little time — this isn’t the easiest seed in the world to grind. But the results are worth every moment you invest.
These take less time to grind than pumpkin seeds do but take care that seeds don’t get stuck in the grinder’s gap, which makes the burr halt or idle. That can burn it out, so be sure to shake it periodically to get all the seeds into the “body” of the grinder, where they belong. Pour in the seeds, grind, shake and keep grinding — simple!
We bet you didn’t know that you can use your pepper grinder to grind coffee beans, did you? Most people don’t! But if your pepper and salt grinder can do a “coarse” setting, go for it! Again, like with sunflower seeds, be sure beans don’t fall into the gap, which can make the burr idle or give you a whole bunch of unevenly sized coffee grounds. If you’re one of those people who love coffee throughout your day, we suggest you invest in a solidly built, professional coffee grinder. But in a pinch, your pepper grinder can handle the job, and if you’re craving a fresh cup of Joe, that definitely qualifies as a pinch!
Because of saffron’s size, you’ll need to put the grinder on the “fine” setting to get this done properly. Be sure it’s not falling out of the bottom of the grinder, that it’s in the “body” of the grinder, where it belongs. This can be time-consuming because of saffron’s size — it’s small! — but it’s definitely worth the time and energy it takes. It takes just a little puff of air from you to blow out the remaining bits and dust in the grinder, but remember — do it gently, like parsley, or it ends up all over the counter, or you.
Unless It’s an Emergency
There are times when using freshly ground spices and herbs just don’t make sense, usually if you’re pressed for time or have other tasks that need your attention. But when you do have the time, using freshly ground spices and herbs is worth every bit of effort. The taste difference between store-bought pre-ground and freshly ground anything is huge, and they just can’t compare. In fact, once you begin grinding your own herbs and spices, we predict you’ll start making the time for just about every recipe.
Frankly, grinding cloves is tough, and it’s a waste of your valuable time. You’ll exert a whole lot of energy for not much ground clove, but if you’re determined to do it yourself, use a mortar and pestle instead. Leave the pepper grinder to handle other herbs and spices.
When is a pepper not a pepper? When it’s in a grinder and doesn’t behave like one, that’s when! Szechuan pepper may have the same name, but it doesn’t act like pepper in a grinder at all. It is far too light to grind, but if you insist on trying, be sure your grinder is set on “coarse.” You’ll only get a tiny bit for a whole lot of time and energy, so don’t put yourself through it — save your exertions in the kitchen for other work.
There are a few issues with grinding sesame seeds, like the size (too small) and the flavor (very strong). Furthermore, the seeds release oil when ground, which means your grinder gets a little slick with it, and some seeds get “gloppy” and attach to the burr. It’s a lot of mess for not much reward, so why bother? Still, if you’re determined to grind them, put your grinder on “coarse” to ease the problems. Again, you’re not going to get much for a lot of time and effort, but it’s your decision, of course!
The issues with grinding flaxseed are the same as those with sesame seeds, like oiliness, size, and its tendency to fall out the bottom of your grinder. But if you really want to try it, be sure your knob is on its tightest setting first, which will reduce the problems we just mentioned.
These take a little work before hitting the grinder — you need to hit them yourself, first! Not hit them, exactly, but smash them somewhat, on a cutting board or clean counter. That allows your grinder to handle them at the proper size, and produce uniform-sized ground cocoa. But again, take care that pieces don’t fall into the gap between grinds. Your grinder works well on cocoa beans, but you must pay attention that it doesn’t start idling; if it does, that means a bean, or a piece of one, has become trapped somewhere. To dislodge it, tap the grinder on the counter and keep going. It can be awkward to clean out the oil from these beans in the grinder, and that takes time. Still, if you’re a fan of fresh cocoa, go for it.
Your pepper grinder is designed for peppercorns, but sometimes, it can do a wonderful job grinding other spices and certain herbs. If you use the ones we’ve mentioned here a lot, you should invest in a good mortar and pestle, which does a great job grinding spices like fresh garlic, and can be used for many of the ones on this list.
It’s not a longterm or permanent solution, perhaps, but using your salt and pepper grinder in a pinch, or when a recipe demands a freshly ground spice, does the trick nicely. If you find yourself using it a lot for this, think about buying a proper spice grinder and spare your salt and pepper grinder all the extra work!
Feel free to contact us if you’re wondering whether certain other spices can go in the salt and pepper grinder. We’re happy to help with any culinary questions you might have!
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