A Finer Grind

The five best spices to roast whole and crush to order

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Roasting and grinding whole spices is all the rage among chefs these days, and one whiff of pan-roasted fennel or a quick grind of a homemade toasted peppercorn blend will tell you why. Whole spices retain their flavor longer than ground spices, which have a larger surface area exposed to air. Toasting the spices in a dry skillet before grinding heightens their flavor even further and gives them a nutty, earthy aroma.

But you don’t need a storeroom full of seasonings to try your hand at roasting and grinding your own spices. Start with five favorites and make some sublime blends. They’ll take your recipes to the next level and fill your kitchen with spice market scents.


1. Peppercorns Black, green, white, and pink peppercorns make a well-rounded, personalized seasoning.

2. Szechuan Pepper
The unique flavor of these peppercorn-like dried berries make them a favorite freshly ground flourish in Asian cuisines.

3. Cumin
Some of cumin’s robust, smoky flavor gets lost when pre-ground and stored too long.

4. Coriander
Once ground, the delicate, peppery flavor of these dried seeds, from the plant that gives us cilantro, can fade in storage.

5. Fennel
Ground fennel can be hard to find in the spice aisle; the seeds of the common fennel plant have a smoky, mild anise taste.

Hands-On or High Speed?
Find the right spice grinder for your cooking needs.

Mortar and pestleThe advantages to this traditional tool: the two components are easy to clean, and manually crushing spices lets you prepare smaller amounts than you could in an electric gadget.
We like: Le Creuset Mortar & Pestle: $28; abt.com

Pepper (or spice) mill Not just for freshly grinding black pepper. You can fill different pepper mills with peppercorn mixes, whole coriander seeds, or Szechuan Pepper Salt.
We like: Peugeot Nancy 7-inch Acrylic Pepper Mill; $28; amazon.com

Spice grinder Size and stability are the selling points of this machine, which is designed to grind spices to a fine powder.
We like: Cuisinart Spice & Nut Grinder: $39.95; williams-sonoma.com

Coffee grinderThe perfect grinder for medium-sized spice batches. The high-speed blades pulverize even such tough items as whole cloves and flaxseeds.
We like: Krups Coffee Grinder: $19.95; cooking.com