If you've never ground your own spices, you're in for a pleasant, aromatic surprise.
Aromatics – which include herbs and spices as well as veggies like onions, garlic and celery – have a tendency to make or break a dish. So it makes sense that high-quality aromatics can take a dish from "meh" to "ahh-mazing." One way to ensure that your spices are the best around is to grind them yourself.
It's worth the time and effort to grind your own spices because once they're pulverized, they begin to lose their flavor and potency. This means many of the spices you find at the grocery store – which were ground who knows when – are but a shadow of their former selves.
For all of your spice-grinding needs
In order to grind your own spices, you'll need some tools. You can go primitive or high-tech, depending on your budget and patience.
The mortar and pestle are perhaps the simplest tools you can find in the kitchen, and they happen to be just perfect for grinding certain spices. The duo consists of a porcelain or stone bowl (the mortar) with a textured interior so your whole seeds don't go flying all over the place, and a baton-like crushing device (the pestle).
Electric spice grinders can be mighty handy, as they're compact and get the job done quickly. They're similar to a coffee bean grinder. In fact, you can even use your java-crusher to grind your spices, but just be sure to reserve it for spice only, or else you'll end up with cumin-flavored coffee, and vice versa. Yuck!
In a pinch, you can just toss your whole spice seeds into a blender and pulse on high until they reach a powder-like consistency.
Ideal spices for at-home grinding and how to store them
The majority of spices can be found in their whole form, but some, like paprika – which is made from dried red peppers – are usually only sold in powder form. Otherwise, seasonings can be found as bark (e.g. cinnamon), buds (cloves), roots (ginger) or seeds (cumin) and pulverized at your convenience. Check out your local bulk or natural foods store, as well as online, to find good-quality whole spices.
You may get the most out of your spices by grinding them as you need them. However, you can also grind them all at once and store them in a tin or jar for later use. The latter option will result in spices that are fresher than those in the store, but not as fresh as seasonings you grind up on the spot. Totally your call.
Just like perfume and other aromatic substances, spices don't like exposure to heat, light, humidity or air. As such, a cupboard or cabinet – preferably one not near the stove – are perfect places to store your goods. If you prefer to have your jarred seasonings on display, choose containers that are opaque and label them. Also, be sure that your spice jars are airtight for maximum freshness.