Few things in the kitchen are as disappointing as opening those spice jars that have been languishing at the back of the cupboard. Vibrant, aromatic and flavourful they are not, which means neither will the dish they are supposed to bring to life.
Avoiding insipid meals calls for using whole spices, freshly ground just before cooking – take it from the pros. As the chef whose flair with spices saw him described as “a real master of art” by Monica Galetti on his way to coming in second place on MasterChef: The Professionals 2020, Santosh Shah, is an authority on these things. He recommends always using whole spices over their ready-ground counterparts.
“Whole spices retain much more flavour, and keep longer than ground spices if you store them in an airtight container,” he says. “The flavour and aroma of spices come from the oils inside, which begin to degrade when exposed to the elements. Ground spices lose 50 per cent of their aroma in just five days, and it’s impossible to tell when you buy spices from a market or store, when they were blended.”
Shah says having a spice grinder means you can “grind as you go, and it’s so worth it”. And once you’ve made a spice powder from whole spices it will remain fresh for four to five days if kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place away from sunlight, he adds.
Knowing what spice grinder to buy comes down to your kitchen and the space you have, what you plan to mill in it, and whether you are willing to use a bit of elbow grease with a manual device or would prefer an electric model.
We tested a range of both manual and electric grinders with a variety of different spices to help you make the choice. Whichever grinder you opt for, you will be able to fill your home with beautiful aromas and take your cooking to the next level with this useful kitchen aid.
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Oliver Hemming spiceboy
This is a double award-winning spice grinder, and it is easy to see why. With its simple yet striking design and high-gloss finish, this is something to be kept on show in the kitchen. Beyond its looks, Spiceboy and the ceramic mechanism can handle whole spices effortlessly, including the tough stuff such as cloves, star anise and cinnamon bark.
We found it so easy to make a spice mix powder, simply remove the plug from the centre of the hollow-dome top, pour in the whole spices, adjust the dial at the bottom to choose between coarse and finely ground, then twist as you would a pepper mill. We put Spiceboy to the test with some heavy-duty spices, including cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and bay leaves, to make a spice mix for pilau rice and were impressed by how quickly and easily it ground them down. We also tried it with mixed peppercorns, which it made short work of, but feel that using it simply as a pepper mill does not do justice to this grinder’s capabilities.
Cuisinart spice grinder
With a metallic grey-blue base and transparent grey lid, this electric grinder looks first-class and stylish. It was one of the bigger models we tested, but you realise the size is warranted when you discover its power.
We tested the grinder with the chai tea recipe on the Cuisinart website, which calls for cardamom pods, whole cloves, a cinnamon stick and star anise. We found it easy to operate – just put the spices into one of the two metal grinding bowls and push down on the grey lid to get the blades whizzing – and it produced a coarse mix (as recommended in the recipe) in less than a minute. Beyond spice powder mixes, it is brilliant for making pastes.
We like that the grinder comes with two bowls with airtight lids so that spices can be stored after grinding without having to be transferred to a separate container and that the bowls, blades and lids are dishwasher safe.
Kuhn Rikon epicurean ratchet grinder
Simply twist the steel body of the Epicurean grinder to lift off the top and reveal the opening of the glass centre into which spices and seasonings can be poured for milling. It features a tough ceramic grinding stone, and a dial at the bottom allows the result to be adjusted between fine and coarse. With its silver body and wooden sphere rachet handle, the grinder has a charming mid-century modern look, and its compact size makes it perfect for smaller kitchens.
This grinder can handle most spices, but it is advised that using cloves or star anise is avoided because their oil content is too high. We tested it on the coarse setting with dried chipotle chillies, sea salt crystals and mixed peppercorns when making chilli sin carne. With a few back-and-forth motions of the handle, it ground wonderfully and was coarse enough to produce those satisfying flakes of pepper and chilli. Unlike some other manual grinders, little effort is needed in its operation and the ergonomic ball handle makes it especially easy to use for people with dexterity problems.
Lakeland 2 jar grind and chop
This grinder is another electric model that fires up when the transparent lid is pushed down. It features two stainless steel processing bowls – one with straight blades for dry spices, and the other with cross-shaped blades for when using wet ingredients. We tested it out by making a tikka masala paste of fresh herbs and whole spices, including garlic, chillies and coriander seeds, and were thrilled with how quickly it ground and combined the ingredients.
Beyond using this grinder for tackling whole spices, it is fantastic for other uses in the kitchen, such as for grinding coffee beans or chopping onions to be used as the base of a whole host of dishes. And it is good value for money at under £40 for a multifunctional device.
üutensil super smash
The tool is essentially a large pestle and mortar with a twist. Made from porcelain and measuring 12cm across, this grinder features a pestle that fits snuggly in the curve of the mortar so it can be rotated with the palm of the hand rather than pounded to save from aching hands and wrists. Star-shaped grooves on the pestle make it harder for ingredients to escape, as they so often do with a smooth design, and a silicone grip means hands will not slip when getting a bit carried away with the spice grinding.
We tested this by making a Thai green curry paste and found it quickly ground down most of the ingredients, with only a bit longer required to tackle the notoriously tough lemongrass stalks and woody galangal. The rough surfaces of the pestle and mortar combined with the grooves helped reduce the ingredients to a fine and beautifully fragrant paste, and we found it much faster than a conventional pestle and mortar.
Salter electric coffee and spice grinder
At less than £20 this is great value for money for an electric grinder that works with coffee beans as well as it does with whole spices. It is super simple to operate, remove the lid, pop in the spices, replace the lid and push the button on the front to grind. The lid features a clear window, so you know exactly when the grinder has taken care of the spice mix. The bowl has a good capacity for plenty of ingredients and it coped well with nuts and tougher spices, such as star anise.
The only downside to this grinder is that the bowl is not removable, meaning you either have to remove the ground spices with a spoon or tip up the whole unit to pour out. For that reason, we would recommend using only dry spices in this grinder.
Skeppshult large spice mill
The first thing that will strike you about this grinder is its weight, but then you will likely become distracted by the gorgeous cast iron and walnut wood design – another grinder worthy of being kept on show. This mill is handmade in Sweden and features rasp-like pyramid-shapes etched into the seasoned cast iron to pulverise ingredients. It also has a storage section underneath the wooden lid, which has a silicone seal to make it airtight, to keep ground spices fresh for days.
The grinder could not be easier to use because once you have added spices to the grinding section, just put it back together and twist. Spice mixes for curries that would typically take about five minutes to make in a pestle and mortar are dealt with in about a minute. This mill comes with quite a price tag for a manual model, but it does come with a 25-year guarantee and, like all cast iron kitchenware, will likely last a lifetime.
Wahl James Martin spice grinder
A compact yet powerful electric grinder, we found this a great product with some interesting and useful features. It is push-button operated, and as well as the grinding cup with blades, there is a special attachment that allows for tiny amounts of spices to be ground to a fine powder.
The unit is also super easy to clean after use because the bowl can be removed and washed in the dishwasher, and the cable can be stored wound up hidden inside the bottom of the unit to avoid trailing wires, which we think is really smart. Most importantly, it ground whole spices quickly and easily without mess when we tried out some of the recipes in the James Martin booklet included – our favourite is the Cajun spiced chicken wings with peppercorns, fennel seeds and cumin seeds.
Dreamfarm Ortwo grinder mill
This is a unique and ever so compact grinder that is still capable of handling some pretty tough whole spices. It features a glass jar, which easily unscrews to fill with ingredients, that is attached to two arms that are squeezed together, either with one hand or two, to mill. This grinder is perfect for those occasions when you have got food on one hand so you can season with the other for prepping in a flash. The Ortwo has six grind settings and we found it worked well to mill carraway seeds to accompany roasted carrots. It also has a useful crumb-catching lip, so does not leave a trail of dust wherever it goes.
The verdict: Spice grinders
For its striking design and almost surprising spice crushing power, Spiceboy is our top-rated grinder. It is so quick and simple to use and has become such a favourite tool in our tester’s kitchen that it is used almost daily. Lakeland’s 2 jar grind and chop takes top spot among the electric devices for its capabilities, multiple uses and reasonable price. It is a culinary workhorse that will remain reliable for many years. The Wahl James Martin spice grinder also deserves a mention for the helpful additions it comes with, notably the special attachment that means even small quantities of spices can be ground to prevent food waste.
We've also found the best knife sharpeners that perfect your blades with ease so now whatever you're cooking up in the kitchen it's sure to be a gourmet meal from start to finish.
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