While pre-ground spices are more convenient, we strongly recommend grinding spices whole whenever possible. This process releases the oils stored in the spices' tough cells, resulting in brighter and more flavourful dishes. While pre-ground spices over-rely on salt to bring out its flavour, the actual taste of freshly-ground spices is more pronounced.
What Is a Mortar & Pestle?
A two-part mechanism with a mortar, or bowl (for placing ingredients), and a pestle (for smashing ingredients), a mortar and pestle crush dry spices, herbs, chillies, alliums, and other ingredients to make flavour-packed mixes. Since you can use them for grinding dry spices into a powder as well as making sauces, they are the most versatile option. Read more about why we love mortar and pestles here.
Why Is a Manual Mortar & Pestle Better than an Electric Alternative?
While electric appliances like food processors are much quicker, their function is different: They chop, rather than crush and grind. This faster speed changes the way flavour is released—it is not as thorough as a mortar and pestle. Additionally, the heat generated from electrical machines, such as electric grinders, might diminish the flavours of the spices if overdone. Electric machines are also not as durable.
Which is the Best Material for a Mortar & Pestle?
Granite and porcelain are our favourites, as they are hard-wearing and versatile. Both will do a great job of whatever you mix in it, but granite is better at some tasks than porcelain, and vice versa.
Granite is better for hard spices and fibrous ingredients, while porcelain is better for nuts and herbs, especially when it comes to emulsifying sauce. Both are easier to remove flavours from previous recipes. We also offer a traditional Mediterranean olivewood mortar and pestle, but as it holds on to flavours, only choose olivewood if you plan to use it repeatedly for the same purpose.
What Is the Best Way to Grind Spices?
A spice grinder or spice mill will grind dry spices most quickly and effectively. Due to their smaller size and purposeful design, they are also lighter and more convenient to store. It is much easier and more precise to achieve a fine or ultra-fine grind in a spice grinder or spice mill.
Which Is Better: Mortar & Pestle or Spice Grinder?
It comes down to personal preference. While a mortar and pestle is more versatile, a spice grinder is more effective. However, spice grinders can only be used for dry spices and small quantities of ingredients, while mortar and pestles can be used to make a large variety of sauces and dips, from pesto to muhammara. If you are looking for a single item that will do it all, a mortar and pestle is the way to go.
Alternatively, if you see yourself using a large food processor or making sauces in a mixing bowl, or don't have enough counter or cupboard space, a spice grinder is the better option.
Which is Better: Spice Grinder or Spice Mill?
Most spice grinders are manual, requiring a little time and elbow grease to get spices from whole to coarse to fine. Our favourite is the Zassenhaus Cast Iron Spice Grinder.
Spice mills typically include a mechanism made of stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic that takes care of the heavy crushing, so all you have to do is twist it, in different levels from coarse to fine, to create the texture you want. Typically, mills are designed to be used only on one type of spice, such as pepper. This is because of the way the mechanism is designed, as well as the inability to clean the insides.
What About Spice Graters?
Spice graters fall between spice grinders and spice mills, in that they can be used for a small variety of spices, but they have blades that make the process quicker. They are easy to use for large spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise, but not small spices like cumin or coriander.