If you like cooking with spices, you'll know all too well the importance of a good grinder. Read the BBC Good Food review of pestles and mills to find our best buys.
Best… hand grinder for small quantities
Oliver Hemming Spice Boy manual spice grinder
Best bits: Intuitive twist function and handy funnel shape for filling.
Comments: We liked this award-winning spice grinder that you twist like a pepper mill. Use it for small quantities of spices like cardamoms, coriander and cumin. It’s easy to fill as the top works like a funnel – measure your spices into it then pull out the plug to load it. The ceramic grinder can be adjusted to a coarse or fine setting.
Buy from Tesco Direct or independent cookware stores
Best … large pestle and mortar
VonShef granite pestle and angled mortar
Best bits: Excellent surface friction for easy grinding
Comments: If you want to grind large quantities of spices by hand, you need a heavy pestle and mortar and this 16cm one is built to last. The real advantage is the slightly rough surface of the granite, which grips the spices and grinds them with very little effort while the unusual slant of the pestle makes it a comfortable angle to grind them at. It looks good too.
Best … pestle and mortar for small quantities
Judge solid marble spice grinder
Best bits: Good for small kitchens and simple twist function.
Comments: This 10cm marble pestle and mortar is ideal if you just want to crush a few spices at a time and don’t have space for lots of gadgets. The pestle is cleverly designed to snuggly fit the mortar so the spices are trapped beneath it. Just rotate the pestle to grind them. We found this best for achieving a slightly coarse-grained spice texture for spices like cardamoms and coriander rather than hard spices like nutmegs. Works well for crushing garlic too.
Cuisinart electric spice and nut grinder
Best bits: No elbow grease required, plus dishwaster-friendly bowls.
Comments: If you are seriously into your curries this spice grinder comes with two bowls so you can have two spice mixes on the go at once. The bowls also detach from the machine (not all do) so they will go in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. Once the lid goes on you just press down to activate the machine – it couldn’t be easier - just take off and check to get the coarse or powder grind that you are after. Works well with both wet and dry spices as well as nuts. We whizzed up garam masala in seconds using whole nutmegs, cardamoms and cinnamon sticks to a fine powder as well as a wet paste in the other bowl with fresh ginger, garlic, chillies and spices – we added a dash of water, and wiped down the sides for an even blend and we thought the overall result was excellent.
Best … functions
James Martin by Wahl spice and coffee grinder
Best bits: Attachment that allows you to grind very small amounts of spice
Comments: This spice grinder efficiently turns a selection of whole spices into a powder with just a few pulses. However its real selling point is the clever attachment that you fit into the main bowl if you only want to grind 1 teaspoon of spice. Many other grinders on the market require a larger quantity to react efficiently with the blades. The bowls are also removable for easy cleaning, which we think is a must for all electric grinders to avoid cross contamination of flavours.
If you enjoy cooking there is nothing quite like using freshly ground whole spices, as they taste and smell so much fresher than ready ground ones. Whole spice will last longer in you store cupboard too. However the type of grinder you buy rather depends on your style of cooking, how often you intend to use it and how much cupboard space you have to store it.
What should I buy?
First think about what type of cook you are and how hands on you like to be. Some cooks enjoy the tactile quality of cooking and always prefer to chop an onion with a knife rather than use a processor, so spending the time and effort grinding spices by hand in a pestle and mortar or mill would be a pleasure for them rather than a chore.
Others want to eat well, but would prefer to whizz through the prep, so here an electric grinder fits the bill, however small the amount of spice is required for a recipe. Electric grinders are also essential for the keen curry lover who wants to whizz up fairly large quantities of dry and wet ingredients to make spice blends and pastes, which are often still too small for a food processor to cope with.
What we looked for:
A spice grinder that gave an even result whether it was a mill, pestle and mortar or electric grinder.
An electric grinder that has removable bowls that could be washed up to avoid cross contamination of flavours.
An electric mill that can cope with a wide range of spices from nutmegs and whole cinnamon sticks to cardamoms and cloves without the fear of the machine overheating. Do read instructions before using it as it is often advisable to pulse the machine to crush the spices rather than turn it on full blast.
Put your spice grinder to good use
More advice on buying kitchen kit
This review was last updated in January 2017. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at email@example.com.
Do you prefer a manual approach or do you have a grinder you can't live without? Share your ideas with us below...