People ask me if it's worth grinding their own spices and the short and sweet answer is absolutely yes!
Spices contain aromatic, volatile oils where most of the magic lies. For example, cuminaldehyde in cumin aids digestion and if you've heard that cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, that's because of its volatile oil cinnamaldehyde, among others.
Protected within the whole spice, these aromatic oils are stable for 1-2 years but once ground into powder, they begin to lose their potency. After 6-8 months, pre-ground spices are a little more than mildly fragrant powdered dust. OK that's harsh. But In all honesty, how long do you think that powdered spice was sitting on the grocery store shelf before it found a place in your pantry? By that point, you're unfortunately missing out on a lot of the magic.
The good news is that grinding whole spices is fast, easy and an aromatic experience you won't forget and might even become obsessed with. The first time I ground my own cinnamon, I literally couldn't move, I was so stunned and knocked off my feet by the gorgeous, eye-popping aroma and flavor that I'm still kicking myself for buying it pre-ground for decades (yes I can be lazy too). There is ZERO COMPARISON between the fresh and pre-ground versions and I would audaciously venture to say this is true for almost any spice.
That said, I'm not dedicated enough to grind every single spice myself. For the slightly more involved ones like turmeric and paprika, I buy them pre-ground but always from reliable / ethnic grocery stores where I know there is reasonable turnover and the spice hasn't been languishing on the shelf for years. In a pinch, I do buy pre-ground versions of other spices too but the more I grind my own, the harder it is to go that route. It really is life-changing.
To grind spices, you basically need 2, maybe 3 things.
1) A pan to dry roast the whole spice and activate the aromatic oils. A non-stick or cast iron pan work nicely for this.
2) Grinding equipment. A mortar and pestle are old school and handy, especially for smaller batches.
3) For larger batches and spices where elbow grease doesn't cut it (cinnamon is an example), a dedicated spice grinder can be nice to have. A cheap coffee grinder (15-20 bucks US) works great but I don't recommend you grind your coffee in it too, unless you're looking for a certain kind of brew (coriander coffee?)
So that's pretty much it! Dry roast the whole spice on medium to medium low flame for 1-2 minutes, shaking every now and then, until aromatic but not brown / burnt. Grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, particularly for a big batch, about a minute. 3 minutes total, you're done. Grind uncooked rice to clean your grinder before moving onto the next spice to prevent aromas and flavors from mixing. Store your freshly ground spices in air-tight containers away from heat and light for 6-8 months. If using often, a spicebox which isn't air tight is fine too. If you don't believe me, watch our video below! Even if you believe me, watch the video. It's fun and funny.
And watch your food and health transform before your eyes (and noses).
Freshly ground spices make for a heart-warming and lovely gift for the host or hostess at your next dinner party invitation too. Next week, we'll share why and how to get your kids involved in the grinding of spices - teaser alert in this week's video!
With Love & (Freshly Ground) Spice
NOTE: For cardamom, it's best to dry roast the entire pod and then smash it open in the mortar to release the black seeds for grinding. You can then discard the pods. Stay tuned for how toddlers can get obsessed with this next week!
Some of our favorite recipes with freshly ground spices: