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Electric Spice Grinders

Published May 2004

How we tested

To prove our point that fresh-ground spices improve dishes, we recently conducted two tests. We baked plain pound cakes flavored with cardamom and simmered savory chutneys flavored with cumin, coriander, and cardamom, blind-tasting samples prepared with freshly ground and preground supermarket spices side by side. The fresh-ground spices won a decisive victory for their superior aroma, vibrancy, and roundness of flavor.

The test kitchen standard for grinding spices is an inexpensive blade-type electric coffee grinder (which we use for spices only, reserving a separate unit to grind coffee). We assembled a variety of models, looking for a grinder that would produce the most delicate, uniform powder and that was easy to both use and clean.

They were all easy to use. The only physical exertion required to use them was pressing a button. No stress, strain, or sore forearms, and they produced consistently good results on all of the test spices. And it only got better: They were easy to brush or wipe clean (just mind the blade!), and we could control for texture of grind simply by adjusting the amount of time we held down their power buttons.

To narrow the field, we ground on to compare the four models' performance grinding spices in three amounts: small (1 teaspoon), medium (1 tablespoon), and large (1/4 cup). Each electric grinder whizzed through the tests with flying colors, producing fine powders from each amount of each spice.

The tests did leave us concerned about overheating from the spinning blade of an electric grinder would affect the spices’ flavor. Taste tests of chutney and cardamom cake showed only very subtle differences between spices ground by hand and those ground in electric grinders. We concluded that there's no need to worry about overheating spices in an electric grinder.

Methodology

We tested 4 electric spice grinders. We fine-ground whole spices of varying hardness, density, shape, and oil content—cumin, coriander, cardamom, and chipotle chiles (torn into rough 1/4-inch pieces)—in each and evaluated them according to the following criteria.

EASE OF USE

We rated each model on how easy it was to fill, use, and clean.

QUALITY OF FINE GRIND

Our most important test, based on the composite of performance scores earned for fine-grinding each of the test spices (in amounts of 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, and 1/4 cup). We preferred grinders that produced the highest percentage of uniformly powdery particles fine enough to pass through a 40-mesh laboratory screen, but we did not necessarily mark down a grinder when only a small percentage of particles was left in the screen. If, on visual and tactile inspection, the fine-ground spices were judged exceptionally coarse or uneven, the grinder was marked down.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*
Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB