If you’re a keen cook, you’ll already know the importance of using fresh spices in your food. Not only do they smell and taste significantly better than pre-ground spices, but they also last a lot longer if stored correctly. Keep them in an airtight storage container in a cool, dry place. Spices electrify dishes and can transport you around the world, so it’s worth using the freshest spices possible.
A spice grinder, whether you’re using a pestle and mortar, spice mill or electric spice grinder, is the tool of choice for regular and occasional spice users alike.
These pieces of kit are versatile too, not just reserved for grinding spices, many can be used to grind coffee beans, nuts and make pastes. With even the largest models being no larger than a travel cup, spice grinders are easy to store and generally easy to clean.
An absolute must when using whole spices – whether you’re grinding them or not – is to dry toast them. In a dry frying pan, gently toast your spices until they begin to brown slightly, become fragrant and start to pop. This heats up the oils in the spices, bringing out the flavour. They’re easily burned, so don’t take your eyes off them.
We tested pestle and mortars, spice mills and electric grinders to find the best models for every type of cook.
How to choose the best spice grinder
What is a spice grinder?
A spice grinder or spice mill in its most basic form is a tool used to grind spices, nuts and seeds into powders. These powders can be used to season or flavour foods or used in place of wheat flour. What ground spices in particular offer is intense flavour without the texture of the seed or husk of the spice when whole.
Types of spice grinders
There are three different types of spice grinder:
Pestle and mortar: Made up of a heavy bowl (mortar) and a club-shaped tool (pestle), this is a primitive and centuries-old means of grinding spices and other foods. These come in a range of sizes, from small ones no bigger than a teacup to large Mexican molcajete. Pestle and mortars are versatile as both dry and wet mixes can be ground in them.
Spice mill: Like the pestle and mortar, a spice mill is manual. These have a similar design to a pepper mill in that the device is hand-cranked and the ground spices come out of the bottom. They’re a great option if you’re looking to grind small amounts. Spice mills are not suitable for wet ingredients.
Electric spice grinder: These powerful bits of kit are like miniature food processors. They’re made up of a small bowl with a spinning blade at the bottom. When turned on, the blade spins super fast to pulverise anything inside the bowl. If the bowl of your electric spice grinder is removable (and if the manual says so, too), you can blitz wet ingredients like pastes for curries and even onions, garlic and ginger.
What can a spice grinder be used for?
A whole world of new aromas and flavours open up when you swap shop-bought, pre-ground spices for freshly ground ones. Like herbs, spices can be used in myriad different ways. Whether you’re using spices to visit south India in the form of Tom Kerridge’s madras curry paste or you’re looking for something bright and fragrant, like a Thai green curry paste, freshly ground spices are the best choice for punchy and authentic-tasting food.
All around the world, spice blends are used as rubs for meat and veg, as seasoning in dishes or sprinkled over sides, as a finishing flourish. Garam masala is a rich and heady spice blend used in a variety of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan dishes. Make your own and use in a classic prawn tikka masala or make it into a paste for our masala mackerel recipe.
Five spice, unsurprisingly, contains a blend of five spices: cinnamon, fennel, star anise, clove and tingling Sichuan pepper. Make this blend the star of the show, like in our five-spice, soy and lemon roast chicken recipe.
Hailing from Morocco, ras el hanout is a fragrant and versatile spice blend sometimes containing up to 100 spices and even rose petals. Use it to bring the flavour to our spiced kale crisps or in our spiced lamb koftas with mint and tomato salad.
Best spice grinders at a glance
Best spice grinder – Cuisinart spice and nut grinder, £46
Best spice grinder for versatility – Lakeland two-jar grind and chop, £39.99
Best spice mill – Microplane spice mill, £23.86
Best spice grinder for small spices and coffee – Salter coffee and spice grinder, £23.99
Best compact spice grinder – Krups coffee and spice grinder, £18
Quietest electric spice grinder – VonShef coffee grinder, £17.99
Best spice mill for small spices – Oliver Hemming Spice Boy, £35.95
Best pestle and mortar – Judge solid marble spice grinder
Best spice grinders to buy in 2021
Cuisinart spice and nut grinder
Best spice grinder
Pros: two bowls plus a lid included, bowls are dishwasher safe
Cons: some ingredients spill over the side
Our top performing spice grinder comes with two removable bowls so you can make two different spice mixes or pastes at the same time. Unlike many of the models on this list, the bowls are dishwasher safe too, which is a huge plus!
It’s a versatile piece of kit as we were able to grind small and large spices, coffee beans and also make a curry paste. It whizzed everything up in a matter of seconds thanks to the powerful blades. With a 90g working capacity in each bowl, there’s a generous amount of space to make a wide variety of food. Although no minimum capacity is listed, we were able to grind small quantities with ease. This model is a great all-rounder.
Read our full Cuisinart spice and nut grinder review.
Lakeland two-jar grind and chop
Best spice grinder for versatility
Pros: two bowls provided: one for dry ingredients another for wet, bowls are removable, lid provided to keep food fresh, cord storage
Cons: minimum quantity still quite large, a little loud
Like our first place spice grinder, this Lakeland model also comes with two bowls. But, one bowl has a grinding blade for dry ingredients like spices and coffee and another has a chopping blade for pastes and tougher ingredients like garlic and ginger.
Both bowls have a minimum capacity of 60g which, for occasional or single spice grinding, is large. So this model is best suited to those looking to blend larger quantities. But, it made light work of small and large spices, grinding them into fine powders. And our curry paste was silky smooth. This versatile spice grinder is great for those looking to batch grind or those with large quantities to make.
Read our full Lakeland two-jar grind and chop review
Microplane spice mill
Best spice mill
Pros: storage space for spices, no nutmeg waste, grinds finely, easy to grind
Cons: not the most versatile
If you regularly cook with nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts, this spice mill is a must-have. Microplane are famous for their exceptionally sharp graters and this spice mill features the same grater technology in the base. It’s hand cranked and works just like a pepper mill. It also comes with a silicone lid to prevent mess and hidden air-tight storage for spices.
Nutmeg and cinnamon were a super-fine texture and looked better than any electric spice grinder could have produced. The waxier foods, like nuts and tonka beans, came out in little curls. It’s a specialist piece of kit, but the results are second to none, so it’s a must-buy for bakers.
Read our full Microplane spice mill review.
Salter coffee and spice grinder
Best spice grinder for small spices and coffee
Pros: see-through lid to check on progress, cord storage, not too loud, large 60g capacity, sturdy
Cons: can’t grind wet or oily ingredients, can’t remove main bowl
This simply designed spice grinder is easy to use thanks to the single on/off button. It has a large see-through lid so you can easily check on the progress of your spices or coffee. Whilst you’re not able to grind any wet ingredients, this cheap and cheerful model did a fantastic job when grinding a range of spices and coffee.
Large and small spices were ground in a matter of seconds in this model. It consistently produces fine and evenly milled results – ideal if you’re looking to grind a single spice or make a spice blend. This model grinds coffee very well, taking less than 30 seconds to do so. The main bowl isn’t removable, so cleaning this model is a little difficult. But if you want something to grind dry spices and coffee only, this Salter spice grinder is a good choice.
Read our full Salter coffee and spice grinder review.
Krups coffee and spice grinder
Best compact spice grinder
Pros: large viewing window, oval design, responsive button
Cons: bowl is not removable
If storage space is lacking, this little Krups spice grinder is a good option. The oval design means that ingredients are forced into the spinning blades so they’re chopped evenly. The bowl isn’t removable, which is a shame, plus this model can’t be used for wet ingredients, like spice pastes.
Krups is a coffee brand, so we weren’t surprised to find this grinder produced ground coffee quickly and efficiently. It did a brilliant job when grinding small spices, even managing to break down the woody husk on coriander seeds. It struggled to produce the same even results when grinding larger spices and can’t grind nutmeg. For small spices and coffee, this model is worth considering
Read our full Krups coffee and spice grinder review.
Vonshef coffee grinder
Quietest electric spice grinder
Pros: grinds small spices exceptionally well, very quiet
Cons: bowl is not removable, can’t make wet pastes
Although billed as a coffee grinder, this model can also grind spices. Unsurprisingly, when grinding coffee, it produced perfectly milled and even results.
While spice grinders tend to be fast, many can be loud and unpleasant, even for a few seconds. That’s not the case with this VonShef model as it’s the quietest we’ve tested. It excelled when grinding small spices, producing fine and sandy powders in a matter of seconds. Larger spices weren’t as fine, but well blended nonetheless. It’s budget friendly and quiet, and a good choice if you’re looking to grind dry spices and coffee.
Read our full VonShef Coffee Grinder review.
Oliver Hemming Spice Boy
Best spice mill for small spices
Pros: intuitive twist function and handy funnel shape for filling
Cons: not the most versatile
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.
Judge Marble spice grinder
Best pestle and mortar
Pros: good for small kitchens and simple twist function
Cons: small capacity
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.
How we tested spice grinders
We put spice grinders through their paces by grinding a variety of dry spices. We wanted to make sure that each grinder could mill small spices as well as large. So, we ground three large spices: cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom as well as three small spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. If the spice grinder can also be used to grind coffee, we tested that too. For spice grinders that were able to make curry pastes, we made Tom Kerridge’s madras curry paste, checking for silky smooth results. For all spice grinders we looked for the following:
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 nutmeg to whole cinnamon stick to peppercorns and thick pastes without fear of the machine overheating. Always read the instructions before using it as it is often advisable to pulse the machine to crush the spices rather than turn it on full blast.
Recipes with spices
More advice on buying kitchen kit
This review was last updated in May 2021. 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? Leave a comment below…