Top Automatic Coffee Grinders
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Top Salt & Pepper Grinders
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Choosing the Culinary Grinder That’s Right for You
Several thousand years ago, one of our ancestors popped a seed into his mouth out of curiosity. When he bit into it, he discovered it tasted good. This being the Stone Age, he soon came up with the idea of placing seeds on a rock and bashing them with an improvised tool. Our unsung Stone Age hero had just made food-preparation history by inventing the mortar and pestle.
As agriculture began to gain momentum alongside hunting as a food-gathering technique, this ability to separate the nutritious element of seeds from the indigestible shells and husks led to the process of grinding flour, a vital ingredient to help sustain life during an era when food was scarce.
The mortar and pestle, the forerunner of the culinary grinders found in kitchens all over the world today, has been a popular tool since the Neolithic era. Although still used by traditionalists, the pounding device can be hard work and time consuming in the modern, hectic world, so many people opt for grinders or mills to create tasty dishes while making food preparation easier.
The use of bladed grinders came into vogue during the 20th century, initially inspired by motorboat propellers. Food grinders have become so popular there is an almost bewildering array to choose from; the good news is that we are literally spoilt for choice and, with a little research, everyone can find the grinder that suits their particular requirements.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of food grinder. A burr mill or burr grinder processes small, hard foodstuffs between two revolving abrasive surfaces, and the coarseness of the end product can be determined by the user. The blade grinder (aka propeller grinder) simultaneously chops and mixes, employing a high-speed spinning blade.
When choosing the right grinder for you, it’s important to consider that you will be buying a kitchen tool that will undergo heavy use, probably daily, so you should look for a durable product that meets the requirements of your individual preferences. For example, if you like to get in and out of the kitchen with minimal fuss, then an automatic, electric grinder should probably be top of your shopping list. If, however, you enjoy spending time in the kitchen, one of the many manual devices available may be the way to go.
The grinding process reduces chunks of food into fine particles, improving its flavour and, in some cases, its nutritional value. A wide variety of foods – wet, moist or dry – lend themselves to this procedure, enabling a host of versatile, flavoursome combinations that are highly adaptive and can to be created quickly and with little effort. In this guide, we will look in a little more detail at the most common types of grinders used in the kitchen.
The King of Spice and the Salt of the Earth
Firstly, let’s take a look at salt and pepper grinders. While gourmet chefs might delight in the use of exotic ingredients and spices, plain old salt and pepper are a staple in many everyday recipes, and these basic ingredients are far from boring when they are freshly ground, a procedure that releases the aroma and flavours immediately before use, producing a fuller and fresher flavour to turn a humdrum meal into a tasty treat.
Feted as the King of Spice, pepper deserves the royal treatment. The flavour we get from pepper comes through its volatile oils, which can quickly go stale if you opt for the pre-ground stuff. Conversely, grinding fresh peppercorn yourself will ensure maximum pleasure for the taste buds. This is also cost-effective, because you need less of the product to achieve the desired result.
Although salt (which is a mineral, not a spice) does not become stale, producing cracked salt with a grinder can add different textures to your dishes, and if you want to use more sophisticated salts to enhance your meals, a salt mill is essential to deal with the larger crystals. Some salts, such as Celtic and Himalayan, contain a high level of moisture, which can cause the grinding mechanism to become sticky, so, for best results, store your salt grinder in a place that has low humidity.
Salt and pepper grinders come in three main types: lever-operated, twist-top and electric. A crucial element in choosing one of these devices is the make-up of the blade. Plastic blades in the cheaper grinders will eventually wear away until they cease to function. Metal blades are adequate for grinding pepper but ceramic blades are a must for salt mills because the chemical properties of salt will corrode metal. Ceramic may also be the best option when choosing a pepper mill, as these blades will remain sharper for much longer than the metal variety.
If you prefer a traditional style of grinder, twist-top mills – commonplace in kitchens across the globe – are for you. Lever-operated mills, used much like scissors, are typically more modern looking. If you begrudge spending long spells in the kitchen, fast-working electric mills will get the job done in no time.
Besides pepper, other spices that benefit from the grinding treatment include cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cumin. Because spices lose their potency quickly once they have been ground, you can use smaller quantities of the freshly-ground substance, thereby saving money while safeguarding your food against stale spices.
You should be able to pick up a manual salt or pepper grinder for a few pounds, while the electric versions come in at around £20 or less.
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Wake up and Smell the Coffee
If you buy quality coffee beans, they deserve a good grinder. Like pepper, ground coffee has a shorter shelf-life than the freshly-ground variety, so grinding coffee immediately prior to brewing it will produce a fresher and more flavoursome cup.
There are two main types of coffee bean grinders: the propeller grinder, with a double-edged single blade that simultaneously spins and chops the beans, and the less common coffee mill (aka the burr grinder), which uses two serrated discs.
Purists tend to rate burr grinders above the bladed variety. They claim the burr grinder produces beans of a more uniform size and gives more control over the grind than a blade does. On the other hand, propeller grinders are generally cheaper.
Coffee mills are usually electric but manual burr grinders are smaller, if you’re pressed for space, and are cheaper than those in the automatic range, which can cost the equivalent of a high-end washing machine. Besides financial considerations, some people prefer the soothing ritual of using a manual grinder rather than the more impersonal automatic process.
Price-wise, coffee grinders range from a few pounds to over the £30 mark for electric machines.
Keeping it Fresh with Herbs
Besides spices and minerals such as salt and pepper, herbs also benefit from the attentions of a grinder when it comes to enhancing the taste of food. Herbs, like pepper, start to lose their flavour – and nutritional value – the moment they are ground, so growing your own herbs or buying them fresh and grinding them produces the best quality of seasoning. Usually, only small quantities of herbs are needed for a dish, so a grinder can do the job in seconds.
Grinders can also be used to chop up legal smoking herbs; these machines are known as tobacco grinders. A huge selection of these devices is available, including wooden and acrylic machines and the cheaper, metal varieties, costing just a few pounds.
Take Control with a Meat Grinder
Grinding your own meat gives you control over the thickness of the grind and what sort of additives you may choose to use. Meat grinders come in three basic forms: standalone, manual and attachments for food processors. Which one is best for you depends on your individual needs and circumstances but they will all allow you to buy cheaper cuts of meat and transform them into top meals. A good-quality meat grinder typically costs between £7 and £70.
Baby Food Grinders
For mums starting to wean their babies from milk to solids, a grinder can make life a lot easier in the kitchen, being ideal in the first instance for blending and crushing food into smooth purees and later as a handy tool to adjust the level of texture of the baby’s meal. Many mums opt for electric blenders, costing from £18 to £120 with a combined steamer, but manual alternatives are available.
Grinding Food for the Elderly
When people get older, the condition of their teeth deteriorates, in many cases to such an extent that they have to change their eating habits. A grinder can be used to make food easy to get down for seniors. One of the easiest and most nutritious items that lends itself to the puree treatment is fresh fruit, such as berries, mango, bananas, peaches and pears.
Pet Food Grinders
Pet owners can also get in on the grinding act. For example, a food processor or coffee grinder can be utilised to prepare meat and vegetables such as potatoes for your dog, but bear in mind some vegetables can be toxic for dogs, so get expert advice.
Grinding Your Way to Success in the Kitchen
We’ve come a long way since our Stone Age friend changed the course of culinary history with his primitive mortar and pestle but, despite the technological advances of recent times, the principle remains the same: the production of healthy food full of flavour. Grinding food adds an extra versatility to cooking because of the ease and effectiveness with which the end product can be combined with other ingredients to transform even the most basic of dishes into a feast fit for a gourmet. Regular use of a grinder in your food preparation will provide a consistent touch of class to your dishes, releasing fresh aromas and flavours to tempt even the most jaded palate.
When deciding which is the right grinder for your particular needs, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Is efficiency more important than style?
- What substances will I primarily be using in the grinder?
- Do I need a range of options when it comes to coarseness of the grind?
- How often will the grinder be used?
- What sort of grinder capacity do I need?
- How easy is this grinder to use?
- How easy is it to keep clean?
Today’s culinary grinders are so adaptable that one device can be used in multiple ways to process different foodstuffs. For example, you can process spices such as cinnamon and peppercorns in a coffee grinder, but be sure to clean the machine thoroughly first, or you’ll end up with a coffee-flavoured spice concoction – or maybe that’s what you want!
Kitting out your kitchen with good grinders that you can enjoy using every day for years to come is an investment for the future, so it makes sense to go for the best quality you can afford. You don’t have to be a celebrity chef like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay or Antony Worrall Thompson to cook up a tasty treat; just think about our Stone Age hero – and get grinding.
- 1 Choosing the Culinary Grinder That’s Right for You