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Equipment Review: The Best Spice Grinders

We tested 10 electric coffee grinders as spice grinders, and some machines handled the task much better than others

by Maryellen Driscoll

from Fine Cooking
Issue 79

Originally, electric blade grinders were meant to grind coffee. But peek into almost any restaurant kitchen and you’ll discover that chefs use these handy little machines for grinding spices instead. It’s a practice that home cooks are adopting too -- and for good reason. When it comes to depth of flavor, ground spices from a jar just can’t compete with freshly ground whole spices.

We recently decided to investigate which electric blade coffee grinders adapt best to the task of grinding spices. And after pulverizing mounds of spices with ten widely available models, we learned that some handle the conversion much better than others.

Some grinders simply can’t handle the small quantities of spices that recipes often call for. The spices either sit untouched below the blades or swirl above their reach. Some grinders’ blades aren’t sharp enough to swiftly crush hard spices, like peppercorns. And speed matters -- the longer it takes to grind spices, the more likely they are to overheat and degrade in flavor. Then there are the design flaws: one product we tested leaked so profusely that it left a ring-shaped pile of ground spices on the counter.

But there’s good news, too. We found nearly as many stellar grinders as imperfect ones. For these champs, no spice was too small, too large, too soft, nor too hard to grind. And no quantity, be it a mere teaspoon or a whopping three tablespoons, proved an obstacle.

How we tested

It’s worth noting that our tests focused only on grinding spices, not coffee. Grinding both spices and coffee in one machine isn’t a good idea -- unless you like the idea of cumin-scented java. For our tests, we ground fennel, coriander, and cumin seeds in increments of 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, and 2 tablespoons. We also ground dried ancho chiles, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, peppercorns, and a mix of whole spices to yield 1/4 cup curry powder. The grinders featured here performed best overall and are listed in order of ranking.

We also tested the following grinders: — Black & Decker Smart Grind model CBG5; Bodum C-Mill Blade Grinder; Capresso Cool Grind model 503; Cuisinart Coffee Bar Coffee Grinder model DCG-20n; KitchenAid model BCG100BU; and Toastmaster model 1119.

Top pick

DeLonghi Aromatic Coffee Grinder — Model DCG39, $29.95 at www.Espressozone.com
This grinder excelled at grinding just about every spice type, quantity, and blend we tested. It ground spices speedily and to an exceptionally fine, even consistency. It’s extremely quiet, excellent at pulsing (quick to rev up and quick to stop), and doesn’t leak. It’s so efficient that you need to watch out for overprocessing and thus overheating -- just 20 seconds is all it takes for most spices. With all these strengths, we’re more than happy to overlook its bulky size.

Runners-up

Braun Aromatic Coffee Grinder — KSM2, $24.99 at  www.Theessentials.com
Another standout, this powerful grinder was the only one to ace the black pepper test: grinding a tablespoon of peppercorns into a uniform texture like coarse sand -- no whole or partially ground berries -- in just five seconds. The blade accelerates the instant you press the on button, but it does take two to three seconds for the blade to stop spinning, so it’s not the most efficient at pulsing. It’s also on the loud side.

Krups Fast Touch Coffee & Spice Grinder — Model 203, $19.99 at  www.Surlatable.com
This model grinds spices quickly and evenly. Like the DeLonghi, it’s so efficient that you need to be careful not to overprocess and thus overheat your spices. Simply designed yet highly functional, it’s a pleasantly quiet machine that also pulses well -- the blade stops one second after you release the power.

Hamilton Beach Custom Grind Deluxe Coffee Grinder — Model 80374, $24.95 at  www.Cooking.com
A consistently solid performer, this model boasts a removable, dishwasher-safe bowl that makes clean-up a breeze (though we wish the bowl were easier to reattach). You can operate the grinder hands-free -- press the power button and the grinder stays on -- but having to press the button again to turn the grinder off makes pulsing tedious.

Photo: Scott Phillips

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