Cooking Issues

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Thank God for Potheads: New Favorite Tool in the Knife-Bag

July 27th, 2010 · 16 Comments · Uncategorized

by Dave Arnold

You need to grind a small amount of spices and your mortar and pestle isn’t handy. You don’t want to clean out your pepper-mill. What are you going to do?  Those damn coffee/spice grinders do a crappy job on small quantities.  The spices just sit there under the blades.  You have to shake and shake –and still your spices don’t get ground. Potheads to the rescue.

Tech-savvy stoners use a device euphemistically called an “herb grinder” to crush marijuana into small pieces for use in devices like the volcano vaporizer.  Herb grinders are just two discs with meshing teeth.  Put something between the two discs, twist them in your hand, and viola –your product is ground. These grinders are small, simple, fast, and easy to clean –perfect to throw into your knife-bag.  We bought a plastic one and a metal one called the “chromium crusher” and put them through their paces with a variety of spices.

Two "herb grinders:" no-name plastic on the left; Chromium Crusher on the right.

1. Load the plastic grinder; 2. Twist away. 3. The Chromium Crusher at work.

I had high hopes for the chromium crusher.  I loved the look of the heavy metal monster. But the plastic device was the clear winner.  I think the geometry of the teeth is better in the plastic grinder; or perhaps the metal grinder’s teeth are just too far apart.

The Grinding Tests:

There are spices that grind well with an herb grinder, and spices that don’t.  I’ve divided them into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The Good:

In the photos below we have dried rosemary, lavender, and pepper. Both grinders, as you might expect, quickly pulverized the dried herbs. With the pepper you start to see the divergence between the plastic and metal grinders –the plastic grinds finer, as it did for all of the spices in our test.

Top to bottom: whole spice, plastic grinder, Chromium Crusher. Right to left, rosemary, lavender, and black pepper. All of these were easy to grind.

Both grinders also made short work of larger, harder spices, like cloves, allspice and star anise:

Top to bottom: whole spice, plastic grinder, Chromium Crusher. Left to right: cloves, allspice, star anise. These large, hard spices were also easy to grind.

The Bad:

Long thin seeds, like caraway and fennel seed, fared poorly.  I think they slipped between the teeth of the grinders.  Green cardamom seeds were just too small and hard to grind well.  The metal grinder did a slightly better job on the cardamom.

Top to bottom: whole spice, plastic grinder, Chromium Crusher. Left to right: caraway, fennel seed, green cardamom. Long, thin seeds just seemed to move around between grinder teeth without getting crushed. Super-hard cardamom seeds were just too-hard to grind.

The Ugly:

The plastic grinder ground soft round seeds, like mustard and coriander, marginally well; but left behind large pieces of skin that refused to grind any further.  The mustard seeds were a little too small for the metal grinder –it couldn’t crush them (coriander was okay).  Juniper was too wet and mucked up both grinders.  Everything but the juniper was easy to clean; the juniper was a royal pain.

Top to bottom: whole spice, plastic grinder, Chromium Crusher. Left to right: mustard seeds, coriander, and juniper. These soft round seeds worked, but not great. Juniper was just too wet and mucked up both grinders.


16 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul Kaye

    But how do the flavours and their extraction compare to those crushed with a pestle & mortar?

  • Stephen

    they are great things and much handier to use for small ammounts esp if cooking for a small number, and usually easy to clean.

    A side issue, the photos you post the “large” size is usually still very small, would be nice to see some higher res images. A number of times I’ve clicked through to images and been really disapointed with the size of the “large” image

    • davearnold

      Hi Stephen,
      I have gone back and re-entered the spice images (not the grinder ones) at roughly twice resolution (1080×1080). Normally I upload at 500px wide cause that is what the theme takes. I never thought about people clicking for larger copies. For some reason, you need to click through a page before you get to the larger image. I will try to upload larger images in the future. Most of the time I work at way below camera resolution because my antique computer craps out, but I always work above wordpress resolution.

  • Jarrett

    Lovely. I’m curious about it’s effects on onion seeds (nigella) and star anise seeds. you think too small to grind well?

    • davearnold

      Star anise works fine. I think nigella might be a problem. I’ll try to remember to test it.

  • Simon

    I was gifted this cast iron grinder:
    and I love it. It has very shallow teeth and works more like a millstone. As it’s rather heavy, it might not be the best for the knife bag though.

    • davearnold

      Hey Simon,
      That looks nice but they don’t show the mechanism on the inside. How does it work?

      • Magnus Widqvist

        It’s a Skeppshult Spice mill. I works much in the same way as the two herb grinders. The top, with the cork stopper is for storing the un-groung spices. You put the spices to be ground between the two cast-iron halves and twist them to grind. The teeth are much shallower then in the herb grinders. Skeppshult makes some really nice cast iron stuff.

  • zach

    if you’re using a metal two-stage grinder you can just hold it upside down while you grind – the teeth come in pretty close proximity to each other and should do just fine.

    i’d just be careful to watch for plastic chips from the plastic grinder – i know from experience that anything too damp/hard/dank can and will snap teeth off like a motherfucker.

  • astrid

    it seems very interesting. Well maybe for using them at home maybe not, but anyway I’like to learn more items and knowdeleges.
    thanks for showing us this kind of things

  • tl

    You have to turn the sifter grinder upside down to grind stuff finely.

  • Jim Green

    Those are great for grinding up marijuana for rolling joints too.

  • Sarah

    I had seen this post a while ago and was finally able to get a grinder and try it out. I got a plastic grinder, but it must not be of the same quality as the one you guys were using. I tried using it on pepper and just plain black pepper broke several of the teeth! Just a heads up for people. Apparently not all plastic grinders are created equal.

    • davearnold

      Howdy Sarah,
      Thanks for the tip! Mine is still going strong (it came with the volcano vaporizer).