how to grind spices without a spice grinder

Spice grinders are super helpful tools to keep in your kitchen arsenal. But if you don’t have one around when you need it, you may wonder if there are quick fixes to help you get the job done.

Luckily, there are several alternative methods to grind spices using common kitchen tools that you most likely already have on hand. From mortar and pestle to a serving spoon, you can always find something to use for grinding in your cupboard.

This article will teach you how to grind spices without a spice grinder using eight alternative solutions. Hopefully, one of them will get you back to cooking in no time!

Grinding Spices Without a Grinder: 8 Proven Substitutes

You can use the following alternative methods to grind spices when a traditional spice grinder is unavailable. Which method you use will depend on what tools you have on hand and what type of spices you are trying to grind.

You’ll soon discover that certain techniques may be more effective for delicate, hard, and bigger spices. Wet and dry spices may also require you to apply different procedures. Read on to know more!

Method 1: Using a Mortar and Pestle

mortar and pestle

Humans have been using mortar and pestle to grind and break up ingredients since about 1550 BCE, possibly sooner. Often made of wood, ceramic, or stone, these ancient tools are proven reliable in milling and are built to last long.

Using a mortar and pestle could be your best option to grind spices without a grinder. Both soft and hard spices, such as cumin seeds and coriander seeds, as well as wet and dry spices, like coriander leaves, can be easily broken down by them. However, it may not be ideal for cinnamon sticks due to their fibrous nature.

You can also construct a makeshift mortar and pestle out of a decently sized coffee mug with thick walls and a large wooden spoon with a thick handle or the end of a rolling pin.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Add a small to medium amount of spices to the mortar or mug. Take care not to fill it more than about a quarter of the way full. Otherwise, you will likely make a mess and have trouble achieving a consistent grind.
  • Use one hand to cover the top of the mortar and hold it in place.
  • Use your other hand, usually the more dominant hand, to pound and grind the spices with the pestle. Use a circular motion while applying a generous amount of pressure.
  • Continue grinding until you have reached the desired consistency.

Method 2: Using a Coffee Grinder

While this may seem obvious, a manual or electric coffee grinder can be used similarly to a spice grinder. With this method, you should be able to grind all of the same things you can mill in a spice grinder. However, it can be difficult to avoid making coffee-flavoured spices.

A big perk of using a coffee grinder to grind spices is that you will be able to create any level of coarseness you desire. You can even reach a fine powder in a very short time.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Wipe off the aromatic oils your coffee beans have left behind on the blades or burr grinders.
  • Add the spices you wish to grind to your manual or electric grinder and replace the lid.
  • Activate the power for a few seconds or rotate the grinding mechanism and then check the grinding progress. If your coffee grinder has a transparent lid, avoid opening it.
  • Continue grinding until you reach a uniform grind consistency at the appropriate coarseness level for your recipe.
  • When you are done, clean out the inside of your coffee grinder so the flavour doesn’t affect your next batch of coffee beans. You can use hot or warm water (together with a brush) to remove the residues.

Method 3: Using a Pepper Mill

If you want to grind grain spices, a pepper mill is a great alternative to using a spice grinder. This method is ideal for a small batch of ingredients like cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, and peppercorns.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Unscrew the top of your pepper mill and dump out any leftover peppercorns. If you don’t want any of the pepper flavour to transfer, you may want to clean out the interior.
  • Add the spices you want to grind to the compartment on the top of your pepper mill.
  • Twist the lid closed. With a pepper mill, you adjust the grind’s coarseness with how tight the lid is screwed on. A looser fit will give you a coarser grind, and a tighter fit will give you a finer grind.
  • Grip the shaft of the pepper mill with one hand while twisting with the other. Hold the pepper mill over a plate or mixing bowl while you work to catch your freshly ground spices.
  • Don’t forget to clean your pepper mill thoroughly after milling to prevent any lingering smell from the residues. For strong aromas that won’t easily come off, you can grind about 1/3 cup of rice grain in your pepper mill until it reaches an almost dust-like consistency. Rice bits are known to dislodge remaining residues and can absorb the spices’ fragrant oils.

Method 4: Using a Grater

A simple grater is another fantastic kitchen tool that can be used for grinding spices, particularly larger spices. Cinnamon sticks, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric root and garlic cloves are all good choices for grinding with a grater.

Depending on your specific type of grater, you will be able to achieve anywhere from fine powder to coarsely ground spice.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Using your non-dominant hand, hold your grater upright with a firm grip. Hold it over a small plate or bowl to collect your ground spices.
  • Press your spice of choice into the serrated steel shaft and drag it down toward the grater base using your dominant hand. Go slowly and take special care to avoid accidentally cutting your knuckles or fingertips.
  • Repeat the process until you have ground the correct amount for your recipe.

Method 5: Using Two Saucepans

The saucepan technique may seem less common, but it’s quite ingenious. You will need two saucepans with a flat bottom, one bigger saucepan and the other one smaller. The bigger saucepan should not have a nonstick coating.

This method is good for dry spices and grain spices like fennel seeds.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Spread a thin layer of the spices you want to grind on the bottom of your larger frying pan. Stainless steel pans work great for this as they are strong, durable, and unlikely to be damaged.
  • Place your smaller saucepan on top of the spices and inside the larger saucepan.
  • Press the spices gently using the top saucepan, similar to a pestle. Try using circular motions and firm pressure to evenly ground all of the spices.
  • Continue grinding until your reach the desired consistency.

Method 6: Using a Rolling Pin

If you are no stranger to baking, there is a good chance you own a rolling pin. And surprise, you can also use it to grind spices. This method is great for roughly grounded spices paired with a ziplock bag and a chopping board or flat countertop.

While you may be able to achieve a finer grind, it could be quite laborious. We recommend you try to grind coriander, whole spices, and other larger spices with this technique.

If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can also use an empty wine bottle or even a sturdy coffee mug with a wide flat base for crushing spices on top of a hard flat surface.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Put your spices inside a zip lock bag and close it without any excess air inside. Using a zip lock bag is optional, but it will help contain the spices and prevent any mess.
  • Place the bag of spices on your chopping board, countertop, or sturdy tabletop.
  • Spread the spices out inside the bag to create a thin layer.
  • Using your rolling pin, empty wine bottle, or mug, firmly press into the spices to break them up. You can try rolling, whacking, or simply applying firm pressure, similar to the technique used with a mortar and pestle.
  • Gently whack and repeat the motions until the spices become tiny pieces and are evenly grounded throughout the bag.

Method 7: Using a Food Blender

In a pinch, your food blender can also be used to grind spices without a grinder. While it is good for chopping to a fine consistency, the main drawback to this method is the excess space between the blade grinding mechanism and the base of the blending cup.

The extra space here results in excess spices not being ground. However, it can still be a viable option for dried herbs, whole spices, and soft spices.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Add the amount of spices you plan on using plus a bit more to the blender cup. This will help account for the excess space between the base and the blades.
  • Put the lid on your blender.
  • Plug your blender in and turn it on to medium speed. Some blenders even have a grinder setting.
  • Pulse and grind the chosen spices for several seconds and check the progress.
  • If needed, stir the spices and blend again.

Method 8: Using a Butcher Knife

Finally, you can also use a butcher knife or a wide-bladed knife and a chopping board to grind some spices when you don’t have a spice grinder.

This method isn’t the easiest, but it can work wonders on ingredients such as coriander seeds, garlic, peppercorns, and salt if you are looking for a coarser grind.

Step by Step Guide:

  • Spread the spices you want to grind in a thin layer on your cutting board. A larger cutting board is best for this technique as it can help prevent a mess. The spices will still be a bit harder to keep localised, but a larger board can help.
  • Lay the broadside of your knife over the spices and press down firmly with the base of your palm. You can also try whacking it with your hand to establish more of a pestle effect. Just take special care of the sharp side of the blade.
  • Check the progress, and then continue grinding until you reach the desired coarseness level.

Which Works for You?

These solutions are great alternatives, but honestly, there are so many options you may be able to come up with using other common kitchen tools hiding in your cupboard.

Some people even utilise two serving spoons similar to a mortar and pestle. The options are nearly limitless when it comes to pounding, grinding, and breaking up materials, especially in the kitchen.

Now that you know how to grind spices without a spice grinder, which technique do you think will serve you best? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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