Grinding whole spices and herbs is the proper way to bring out the essential oils and deep flavors. But what happens if your spice grinder malfunctions or you do not own one while making a hearty meal that requires ground spices? Improvise.
You can use a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, smash your spices in a zip-lock bag with a blunt object, or use a Microplane grater. Depending on the spices you need, the following are some of the hacks that have worked for me.
Alternative Ways to Grind Your Spices
There are a few substitute methods of crushing spices without a spice grinder. These techniques use tools that you may already have in your kitchen.
Mortar and Pestle
Mortar and pestle are very popular household items to use when you need to grind a small batch of spices. It is ideal for crushing wet and dry spices like ginger and pepper.
- Add the required amount of herbs or spices into your mortar. Do not overload the mortar.
- Place your less dominant hand over the mortar to act as a lid and prevent the spices from jumping out.
- Take the pestle with your more dominant hand and pound and swirl, pressing the seeds hard until they disintegrate.
- Continue pounding until you get the desired texture.
- However, this process may not grind your cinnamon sticks into fine powder due to its fibrous nature.
A manual or electric coffee bean grinder is great for pulverizing large and dry spices such as cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and cumin seeds, which can be labor-intensive for the mortar and pestle. The blades allow you to turn your spices into fine powders. Avoid using garlic, ginger, or salt with a coffee grinder. Salt may cause rusting of the blades.
- First, clean off all the coffee residue from the coffee grinder, or you’ll end up with coffee-flavored spices.
- Pour your desired amount of spices into the coffee grinder, cover it, and run your coffee grinder.
- Mix the spices periodically until you attain a uniform consistency.
- Remember to thoroughly clean off the spices to avoid having food spices in your next cup of coffee.
Your food blender is just not for smoothies. The only flaw to this method is you may have to grind a lot more spices than you may need because the food blender blades may be too high from the base. However, you can always store the excess spices for the next recipe.
- Add your spices in a clean blender, making sure the blades are in contact with your whole spices and cover with a lid.
- Turn your blender on to medium speed or the grinder setting.
- If your blender does not have the grinder setting, mix the spices with a spoon to have a uniform grind.
- Thoroughly clean your food blender after use.
Another useful kitchen tool for larger spices like cinnamon sticks, ginger, turmeric root is the Microplane grater. Fortunately, it comes with different sizes ranging from fine to course, depending on what spice you want to use.
- Firmly hold the grater upright with one hand over a plate to keep it stationary.
- Glide the spice over the steel shaft on the grating side, shaving off tiny pieces.
- Repeat the process until you get your desired amount of ground spice.
- Be careful not to scrape your fingertips or knuckles over the holes on the grate.
A pepper mill grinder is excellent for grinding small amounts of grain spices like cumin seeds, peppercorns, coriander, and fennel seeds. You probably have one for your dining table or the one that comes with black pepper. Also, keep in mind that a small-sized pepper mill may not grind big spices.
- Empty the pepper mill and clean it thoroughly.
- For bigger spices like cinnamon sticks and nutmeg, you may have to chop them into smaller pieces first.
- Add a small amount of the spice you want and grind them on to a plate or saucepan.
- To get finely-ground spices, you may have to put back the roughly grounded spices into the pepper mill and grind them again.
If you do not have any of the above equipment, you can use still makeshift items that are available in a very basic kitchen, including a butcher knife or a wide-bladed knife. This process is excellent for peppercorns, salt, and coriander.
Check this too: What is the Quietest Coffee Grinder?
- Pour a small number of spices on a chopping board.
- Place the knife on top of the whole spices with the blade flat against them.
- Cover the knife with a clean kitchen towel to prevent the spices from spilling out.
- Put your hand on top of the knife and apply pressure while sliding it back and forth to ensure proper grinding.
Zip-lock bag and rolling pin/ empty wine bottle/ meat tenderizer mallet
Using a zip-lock bag acts as a mortar and prevents the spices from scattering all over the kitchen.
- Pour the needed amount of spices in a clean zip-lock plastic bag, remove all the air, and close it.
- Lay the bag flat on a tabletop and spread the whole spices thinly.
- Take any blunt object such as a meat tenderizer mallet, hammer, frying pan, rolling pin, or an empty wine bottle and apply pressure on the spices.
- You can also gently whack the spices until they become evenly grounded.
Two Saucepan Technique
You will need two saucepans of different sizes with a flat base
- Take a big saucepan and thinly layer your whole spices in the saucepan
- Take a smaller sauce and place it into the bigger saucepan on top of the spices and start applying pressure while sliding the smaller one in circular motions.
- Grind the spices until the pulverize to your desired grind.
Two Serving Spoons
Similar to the two saucepan technique, you can use two serving spoons for small quantities such as salt and pepper.
- Pour a small amount of the spices of your choice on a serving spoon and place the other spoon on top.
- Press them hard together and rub the spoon on top in a circular motion on the spices until they are crushed.
Mug and Rolling Pin
If you do not have a mortar or a zip-lock bag, you can use a mug as a substitute for soft spices such as garlic, ginger, pepper.
- Chop your spices first, then pour them in a sturdy coffee mug.
- Using one end of a rolling pin, crush the spices gently to the texture of your liking.
Mug and Chopping Board
This method is messy, but for worse cases, it is still efficient for grinding spices. Use a mug with a flat base or a hammer
- Clean and sanitize your hammer with some vinegar.
- Chop your bigger spices like cinnamon sticks into smaller pieces with a knife.
- Thinly spread your spices and give them a good smashing with the underside of the mug or hammer.
Check this too: How to Clean a Spice Grinder
While these methods are efficient, it is best to get yourself a spice grinder if you do this often or need to grind large quantities of whole spices. Spice grinders are affordable, and they also help to save time during cooking and are convenient for getting your desired grind, which is coarse, medium, or fine.