When we look in our spice drawers at all the little bottles of powder, we often don’t think about where each spice actually comes from and what it looks like pre-ground. But buying spices whole and grinding them yourself can unlock major flavor potential that you can’t really get with a powder that’s been sitting in your cabinet for 3 years. At the same time, buying whole can be expensive, and grinding at home is time and energy-consuming. So, is grinding spices yourself worthwhile?
You may have noticed that in coffee shops, coffee is ground fresh because it’s at its most flavorful the moment it’s ground. The same is true for spices. As soon as you grind them, they begin to lose flavor. So if your main priority is maximum flavor, then it may indeed be worth it to buy your spices whole and a grinder or mortar and pestle to grind at home. You’ll need to add far less of a fresh-ground spice to a dish than pre-ground for the same potency.
At the same time, grinding your spice with a mortar and pestle takes a lot of effort. Even grinding all your spices in a blade grinder can add time and steps to your recipe. That’s fine if you have time, but if you’re just cooking yourself dinner after a long day then you probably want to maximize convenience—your dish will still taste great if you add the right amount of pre-ground spices.
All in all, it’s probably a good idea to have whole versions of your favorite spices in the cupboard to fresh-grind when you have time or want to really highlight a certain flavor. But fresh-grinding everything every time isn’t necessarily plausible, and that’s okay.