One of the secrets to restaurant quality dishes at home is freshly ground spices. Pre-ground spices from the supermarket sit for an indefinable amount of time on the shelf before you buy it, and then it can sit for months unused in your pantry. By the time you're ready to use your ground spices they can have lost much of their original flavor. By grinding your own spices, however, you can keep them whole in the pantry where they'll stay fresh for far longer. Just grind as much as you need, when you need it. Professional chefs don't use fancy spice grinders, they use coffee grinders. Here's how to use a coffee grinder for spices.
How to Use a Coffee Grinder for Spices
Choose your grinder. Not all coffee bean grinders are equal when it comes to grinding spices. Many spices are much smaller than the average coffee bean, and you're likely to be grinding fewer spices than beans at any given time. So choose a small coffee grinder with a 1/2 to 1 cup capacity; any larger and you risk being unable to grind the spices. Also look for a grinder that has a sharp blade that is positioned close to the bottom of the grinder. When grinding hard spices like peppercorns you need a sharp blade. Seeds like celery seed or poppy seeds are so tiny and fine that a blade close to the bottom of the grinder will grind them nicely. If the blade is too high off the bottom of the grinder it won't reach the tiny seeds at the bottom.
Save your grinder for spices only. Do not use a coffee grinder for coffee beans and spices. The coffee bean oil will permeate the interior of the coffee grinder and taint all your spices with a coffee flavor. Conversely, using a grinder for spices and then coffee may alter the aroma of your coffee.
Store the grinder properly. Spices are aromatic and flavorful. In order to prevent the contamination of your spices from previous grindings, always dust out the grinder when finished and store it without a lid. Removing any residual spices will help the grinder air out, and the air flow will dry out any oils that have been left behind by the grinder.
Cool spices before grinding. If you plan on roasting your spices prior to grinding them, allow them to cool so that they don't melt or warp the interior of the grinder. Cooling them will also make them safer to handle.
Pulse your spices. Spices lose their flavor quickly if there is heat applied to them. When you're grinding your spices only pulse the grinder rather than holding down the button for a consistent grind. Pulsing the grinder will keep the blade from overheating and leaching flavor from your spices. A consistent grind will heat the blade quickly and reduce the flavor of your freshly ground spices.
Store unused ground spices. Unused ground spices can be stored in your pantry for several weeks if they're in an airtight container. Keeping them away from the oven and out of direct sunlight will help preserve their flavor. The longer you keep them, however, the less flavorful they will be.
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