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Spice grinders can have different grinding mechanisms, but they all have the same goal: efficiently grind whole spices into fine powders. “As a general rule, whole spices will have a much longer shelf life because the volatile oils that are responsible for flavor and aroma remain intact,” said Alex Wilkens, spice expert at The Spice House.
While operating a spice grinder doesn’t require a lot of prep work, we still recommend grinding your spices before you start cooking. If you like to make your own spice blends, or if you find yourself reaching for a particular spice frequently, you can grind larger quantities once a month, suggested Uttam Mukherjee and Aakanksha Sinha, co-owners of the Spice Waala restaurant. Once you grind a spice, you have a month or so before the flavor starts to wane.
We tested five spice grinders and two pepper mills with three different spices to identify the best options currently on the market.
Here are the best spice grinders of 2021
- Best spice grinder overall: Cuisinart Electric Spice and Nut Grinder
- Best budget spice grinder: Hamilton Beach Fresh Grind Electric Grinder
- Best manual spice grinder: Grosche Breman Manual Coffee Grinder
DON’T MISS: The best coffee grinders you can buy
Our testing methodology
We chose to test cumin seeds and cloves as small and medium sized spices, respectively — both with uniform shapes. We also ground cinnamon sticks broken into shards to see how the grinders handled large, irregularly shaped spices.
For recommendations and tips on what to look for in a spice grinder, we interviewed Alex Wilkens of gourmet spice purveyor The Spice House, and Uttam Mukherjee and Aakanksha Sinha, co-owners of Spice Waala, an Indian restaurant in Seattle. After speaking with these experts and conducting our own research, we settled on our criteria:
Speed: We filled the grinder cup halfway with each spice and ground for ten seconds. At this point, we evaluated the consistency of the grounds by eye. Then, we ground the spices in 10 second intervals, and evaluated them for consistency after 20 seconds, 40 seconds, and 60 seconds.
Consistency: We used Kruve sifters — fine mesh sifters calibrated in microns for coffee grinds — to measure consistency. The 200, 250, 300, 350, and 400 micron sifters are used for espresso, a powder consistency. We sifted store bought cinnamon and cumin powder through the 200, 250, and 300 micron sifters to see which was best for powdered spices. The store bought powder easily passed through the 250 sifter, so we identified that as the goal for the spices we ground ourselves. When measuring the spices, we started with larger sifters and moved to smaller ones until the grinds stopped passing through.
Capacity: We measured the capacity of the grinders by filling the grinding cups with dry, short grain white rice and then measuring that amount of rice.
Ease of use: All of the electric grinders we tested had to be continuously operated: if you let go of the button, the grinding stopped. However, some of the buttons were more difficult to hold down than others. If we could operate the grinder with one hand, we looked to see if the grinder moved on the counter during operation.
The best spice grinder overall
The Cuisinart Electric Spice and Nut Grinder can handle any spice you throw in it, producing an even grind without overheating.
Pros: Dishwasher safe components, large capacity, produces even grind with a variety of spices
Cons: No base storage for the cord
Out of all the grinders we tested, the Cuisinart was the easiest to use and produced the most evenly-ground spices. The Cuisinart grinding chamber had a capacity of two-thirds of a cup, which is larger than our pick for best budget and smaller than the best manual spice grinder. In the Cuisinart, each spice was broken down to a powder consistency after 45 seconds to a minute, and the particles were minimally different in size.
In other grinders, finer particles clung to the sides of the chamber or the lid, while the pieces near the blades were substantially coarser. In the Cuisinart, however, the particles collected from the lid were consistent with those at the base of the bowl. You activate the grinder by pushing down on the lid, which was the easiest to hold down for more than 10 seconds out of all the grinders we tested.
The stainless steel chamber and lid are removable and dishwasher safe. Additionally, the grinder comes with a silicone top for the chamber, to store extra spices. We were initially excited that the removeable grind chamber possibly meant you could buy multiple grinding bowls (i.e., one for coffee, one for spices) to make the grinder more multipurpose. However, while Cusinart does sell replacement bowls, they’re just as expensive as buying a whole new grinder.
The best budget spice grinder
The Hamilton Beach Fresh Grind Electric Grinder is surprisingly powerful and takes up limited kitchen space, perfect for a casual spice user.
Pros: Produced powdered spices, compact, electric cord storage in base
Cons: Difficult to hold the button down continuously, plastic chamber became discolored after use
The Hamilton Beach grinder doesn’t feel substantial, as it is mostly made out of plastic, but I was pleasantly surprised by its capability. It took 45 seconds to a minute for the cumin and cloves to be powderized, which was also the case with our top pick. The body of the grinder did not feel warm to the touch until after the 45 seconds of grinding, which impressed me for such a small machine.
The results from the cinnamon stick test were mixed. Cinnamon powder gathered on the lid while I was grinding, and it was an ideal consistency. However, the rest of the cinnamon that stayed in the bowl of the grinder was coarser — almost too coarse to be considered powder.
Max capacities for coffee and spices are marked on the grinding chamber. The removable chamber and lid were easy to clean and did not retain a scent from the spices after washing, though both were discolored after use. The grinder activates by pressing a button on the side, where the lid attaches to the base, but the button is not very sensitive. If you’re not pressing it as hard as possible, the grinder will stop.
The best manual spice grinder
The manual Grosche Breman Manual Coffee Grinder is powerful enough to break down even the toughest spices, thanks to its crank handle and ceramic grinding mechanism.
Pros: Even grind consistency, extra storage jar and lid, crank handle is easy to operate
Cons: Lots of parts that are easy to lose, small spices may come out on the coarse side
You’ll get an arm workout and freshly ground spices when you use the Grosche Coffee Grinder. The Grosche really shined in the cinnamon test, producing some of the finest powder consistency cinnamon. Because it’s manual, it took more than twice as long as the electric grinders, but it wasn’t difficult to crank the handle and break down the woody cinnamon bark. You do have to hold down the base of the grinder with one hand while you crank it.
The grinder comes with a spare glass jar and silicone lid. The pieces come apart easily for cleaning, but make sure you note how they go back together. If you put the smaller pieces in the wrong order, the grinder just won’t turn.
I was less impressed by the cumin in this grinder. It was a coarser consistency than the cinnamon and not as fine as the cumin powder from other grinders. Additionally, I noticed that spice powder clung to the grooves in the ceramic mechanism. This may be a problem for flavor crossover.
What else we tested
What we don’t recommend and why:
Capresso Cool Grind Coffee and Spice Grinder: The affordable price and compact size are the main selling points of this grinder. However, it never produced powdered spices as fine as our top picks. The grinding chamber is not removable, which makes cleaning between spices difficult.
FinaMill Battery Operated Spice Grinder: The concept of this grinder is unique and intuitive to use, but the grinder did not produce powdered spices. It was not powerful enough to grind cinnamon shards, and the cumin and cloves both came out too coarse. I think this grinder is better suited for pepper and dried herbs when a coarse grind is desired.
We also tested two manual pepper grinders that performed well in our pepper grinder tests: the Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder and the Zwilling Matte Black Pepper Grinder. Both ground spices to a coarse consistency, but neither produced powdered spice as successfully as the electric spice grinders. The Kuhn Rikon is intended to be used with spices beyond pepper, and I would recommend it only if you want a coarse grind.
What we’re testing next
Krups Silent Vortex Electric Grinder: We did not receive this grinder in time for this round of testing, but we will include the results in a future update. In particular, we want to test the claims that this grinder is one of the quietest and most efficient on the market.
What’s the difference between a blade grinder and a burr grinder?
Most grinders feature a burr or blade grinding mechanism. In a burr grinder, particles are forced between two grooved discs, and turning the discs grinds the particle. A blade grinder looks like a miniature blender with sharp stainless steel blades at the base of the grinding cup.
Blade grinders are less precise but also less expensive than burr grinders. With a blade grinder, pieces of the spice can get stuck under the blades or pressed against the bowl. You can control the coarseness with a burr grinder, but if you just want a fine powder, Wilkens says a blade grinder works well.
Our best overall and best budget spice grinder picks are blade grinders, but we also recommend a manual burr grinder for those who want the most consistent grind.
How do I clean my spice grinder?
Some of the grinders we tested had removable bowls and lids that could be hand washed or put in the dishwasher, according to manufacturer instructions. You do not want to get the base of your grinder too wet. Often, the electrical mechanism is stored in the base. If the outside is dirty, you can clean the external surface with a damp cloth.
If the grinder bowl is not removable, treat the bowl as carefully as you do the base. One way to clean grinder bowls that aren’t removeable is to grind some dried white rice in the grinder and let it sit for a few minutes before disposing. The rice will absorb oils and particles left in the grinding bowl.
Mukherjee and Sinha recommend cleaning between spices to prevent flavor crossover. Many spice grinders can grind coffee beans and vice versa, and you’ll want to clean the grinder between those two especially. However, some coffee experts say that once you grind a spice in a coffee grinder, the coffee will never taste the same no matter how thoroughly you clean it. So proceed with caution.
Can I grind coffee or nuts in my spice grinder?
The grinder’s manual will tell you whether it is compatible with coffee beans or nuts. Coffee experts have told Insider that a burr grinder is always preferable for coffee, though a blade grinder, like most of the spice grinders we tested, can do the job adequately.
The risk in grinding multiple things, or even multiple spices, is always flavor crossover. Both coffee beans and whole spices release their flavor when ground, and the oils can linger in the grinder even after being washed. You may not notice if your cinnamon has a note of nutmeg, but pepper-flavored coffee may not be so benign.
Can I use my pepper grinder to grind spices?
If your pepper grinder has a ceramic mechanism, you can grind small and uniformly shaped spices in it. However, most pepper grinders are not dishwasher safe and can only be brushed out with a dry cloth. Flavor crossover is a risk here as well.
What is the best way to store ground spices?
When we spoke to spice experts for our guide to the best pepper mills, the consensus was that you should use the ground spices as quickly as possible to get the best flavor. Whole spices have a longer flavor shelf life than ground spices.
However, ground spices should remain fragrant and flavorful for a few months if stored properly. Mukherjee and Sinha recommend an airtight glass jar instead of plastic, and suggest keeping the jar in a dry place out of direct sunlight.
How do I grind smaller or lighter spices, like cumin seeds?
In theory, spice grinders can handle large and small spices, but the machines aren’t perfect. According Mukherjee and Sinha, the weight of the spice impacts the grinding more than the size. “When small, light-weighted seeds, like black mustard seeds, are put in the grinder, the speed of the blades and the air circulation causes the seeds to stay above the blades,” they said. This can result in an uneven grind.
The best way to get an even grind with small spice is to grind in short pulses and shake the grinder to reshuffle the particles between bursts.
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