Freshly ground cumin with mortar and pestle (kinda...)

Suribachi/mortar and pestle set

I've written in the past about using freshly ground cumin in my kitchen. After finding out that I could buy whole cumin seeds at a bulk foods store and just grind them up as needed -- and then tasting the awesome flavor that resulted!! -- I haven't looked back to pre-ground cumin. :)

We use cumin in many of our Mexican-style recipes, like chili and taco salad. Cumin, along with other spices, gives a great flavor without purchasing expensive (and less healthy) seasoning packets for taco meat or chili. :)

In the past, I've pulverized the cumin seeds with a rolling pin. It works, but isn't ideal, since it doesn't grind the cumin very finely.

Suribachi/mortar and pestle set

I started looking for a mortar and pestle set (yay for SwagBucks, which allows me to order fun stuff on!). I came across this similar kitchen device, called a suribachi set. It got great reviews and was only $7.50 (with free shipping!) so I decided to give it a try. :)

I've had this suribachi set for about 6 months now, and used it many times (but only for cumin seeds thus far!). It works wonderfully!

The ceramic grooves grind very finely. It's a good size bowl (5.5 inches) for grinding up to about 3-4 tablespoons at a time (usually enough for a big pot of chili, at any rate!). :)

The set is described as useful for grinding and crushing seeds, herbs, and nuts. I'm looking forward to using it for nutmeg and other things (whenever my supply of pre-ground nutmeg runs out... better make more pumpkin scones!). ;)

Suribachi/mortar and pestle set

The not-as-great part:

Made in China. A lot of the mortar and pestle sets on Amazon had reviewers complaining that they were made in China. This set is the "Japanese version" of a mortar and pestle but it's still made in China (something I wasn't aware of until I read the box from mine).

I haven't tested how much aroma the bowl retains from the spices ground in it. Cumin is pretty strong, and I wonder if when I grind a different spice in the future, it will have traces of cumin scent in it. (Probably not, if I'm not letting it set in the bowl for long periods...??) But that is something I have wondered about. :)

All in all, I have really enjoyed this suribachi set in my kitchen! It's a small gadget, but so handy!

Those of you who use a mortar and pestle, what do you grind with it? My mom has never had one so it's all new to me... :)



I wouldn't think that the bowl would retain the smell/flavor since it looks like it is ceramic. The groves in the bowl are a nice touch, looks like they would make it work well. Though I would think the wooden pestle would be hard to clean and it may retain the smells. Every mortar and pestle I have seen was made of granite. I have never used one so my advice is limited.
(Being made in china I hope it doesn't have led in it...)

I use mine to pulverize garlic for guacamole or whenever i want a garlic paste, and also to crush my chai tea mix (which I make with whole seeds). I love it!

I would LOVE to see your recipe for the chai tea mix made with whole seeds!! :)

We grind herbs, such as sage from our garden (after drying, of course!). Also, I grind meds for our pets or children into a powder that can be added to applesauce or moist pet food when that is needed.

You can also use a coffee grinder to grind up whole spices. This is what we've been doing (we use a separate one for coffee).

You can use the fine side of a grater for nutmeg nuts if you are worried about the cumin contaminating it.

I usually use a fine grater for whole nutmeg (which tastes so good!) and I use a mortar and pestle for crushing whole allspice and cardamom.

Thanks for mentioning cardamom... such a wonderful spice (though pricey!). I had forgotten about using whole cardamom, but next time I need to buy some, I will check the bulk food store for it in whole form! :D

I have a large mortar and pestle that I use for grinding herbs that I use when making salves or other herbal remedies and a smaller ceramic one (from Walmart) that I use for quick things like grinding herbs from my garden for cooking. Neither of them seem to retain the odor of herbs.

We have a couple of mortar and pestles that were my grandmother's. I'd wondered what she did with them, but I think you have answered that today! She was a wonderful cook and I can imagine that in her younger years she had herbs in a garden that she ground with the mortar and pestle.
I can understand your concern about the materials used in the making of the set you purchased. May I suggest you look at an antique store or antique mall for one? Ours are made of marble, which eliminates most of the concern for contamination.

I have a wooden one that I use for crushing fennel seeds, dried red peppers and garlic. And some Chinese spices that I don't know the English names for...
I'm living in China and nearly every household has a set thus they are for sale in every store and roadside market. I've never seen them in the US so I'm really not surprised it's from China. But as others mentioned, they must be made elsewhere as well.
I just wash mine out with water after each use.
Now you've given me an idea on what I can give my mom for Christmas. I know she doesn't have one of these!

If you don't already, try toasting the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan for a few minutes before crushing - really enhances the flavor!

A friend has one that she uses to make fresh salsa, and now I've decided I must have one too. Here's the wiki to molcajete.

I have a marble one that I just rinse out after using. I grind all sorts of whole spices in it - cumin, coriander, cardamum, etc.

I've just found your blog, and I'm quite enjoying it.

I love grinding up whole spices, but once I stopped drinking coffee I began using my coffee bean grinder to grind my spices; it saves time when I'm making blends from whole cumin, coriander, cardamom & pepper flakes. One thing about the cardamom - You have to open the pods and get the seeds out; the seeds are what you grind, not the entire pod. Totally worth the wonderful flavor!

I'm curious as to why something made in China would be a negative for this type of thing?

I think I have only seen cardamom "seeds", not in a pod... (??) I'm not sure though because it's been a long time! It was given to me and I crushed it for some Finnish bread... but I think that was 15 years ago so my brain is foggy on the details! :)

I think "made in China" is somewhat of a negative simply because I prefer to support American industry... also, manufacturing processes are not as regulated in China as they are in the US, and this product does come into contact with food. However, the "lead in stoneware" culprit is usually with the glaze/glazing process, and only the outside of this suribachi set is glazed, which doesn't touch any food anyway.

I think the risks would be very minimal BUT wanted to mention the "made in China" part since some people will care, and it was a fact I didn't find out until I had purchased mine. :)

Tammy, what is your opinion of tableware, (plates , bowls, etc.) that are made in china? do you think its safe? the last time I looked at dishes, everything seemed to be made there, and I didnt know.

I use a smaller mortar & pestle for grinding up baker's ammonia really fine for Dream Cookies. Sometimes it comes more in rock form but even if it is ground I use the M & P to make sure there are no chunks.



I was wondering if anybody has tried to ground green tea int fine powder (matcha)

I actually tried to do it with a coffe grinder and got powder but pretty coarse compare to the real thing.

The matcha powder is like talc, so finely pulverized that it dissolves completely when mixed with water.

The ground tea I did with my coffee grinder does dissolve at the beginning but retains a huge amound of deposits at the bottom of the cup.

I used sencha tea and drank it this way. It made me nauseous!!! (never been nauseous with matcha to which I've been "addicted" for a while) I think it may have to do with the tea not being that finely ground (like talc) and thus harder for the body to accept and/or metabolize?

Anyway, just my two cents experience. Hoping to hear from anybody about similar experience.


I usually buy Stash Powdered Ice tea mix, which is basically Sencha green tea ground into a fine powder. Around $3 for a package of 12 pouches.

Matcha is wayyyy too expensive for everyday use. Powdered Sencha is OK I think.

High grade Tencha is used for Matcha. Maybe the rougher sencha leaves cannot be ground fine with an ordinary coffee grinder? I read on Wikipedia that it can take the tea companies up to one hour to grind 30 grams of high quality Tencha leaves into the talc like matcha powder !!

Companies like Stash probably have high powered grinders that can pulverize the cheaper Sencha tea (something counter-top coffee grinders are not powerful enuff to do.

I bought a coffee grinder and tried it today. I used the "expresso setting" (mine is a Hamilton Beach 80365 witth 4 different settings and auto stop)

I ground the Sencha 3 times, and the tea is now almost like a fine powder, but still not as fine as the Stash Ice Tea.

I am going to try the younger (more expensive) grade tea next time in the coffee grinder and see if I can grind it finer.

As far as feeling naseous, did feel somewhat queasy a few hours after drinking the roughly ground Sencha, but I cannot be 100% sure. I had enjoyed a little too many beers last
night, and I am not sure if the queasiness was due to last night's beer or the ground Tea ;-)


Please read below. Maybe this explains why you felt nauseous after drinking the tea???

I came across a website that says "eating" the green tea may, after all, not be too healthy.

I am not sure how accurate this is, but I wanted to quote them so that you can make your own decision whether to just take regular tea infusions or to drink powdered tea:

Here is the link:

Eating green tea - Is It Healthy?

by Tony Stark

Can you eat the green tea leaves in the tea bag and get the same benefits of drinking the tea?



The healthiest way to enjoy tea is to brew and drink the liquor. When you drink tea infusion, you are protecting yourself from harmful insoluble solids that may be present in the leaves (such as synthetic pesticide DDT).

Matcha green tea sellers claim that when you consume tea powder, you are maximising its health benefits. I do not agree, and here is why.

Here is their argument: Green tea is so healthy, you should consume it whole. Since only a small proportion of tea leaves ever dissolve in water, the best way to ingest green tea is either to eat it, or to take matcha powder.

This argument is faulty for the following reasons:

- The most important nutritional components in tea leaves are catechins, caffeine and theanine. These nutrients are flavorful as well as soluble, which explains why rich tasting teas often contain a high concentration of these compounds.

- In the Far East, green tea leaves are infused at least 3 times, until the resulting tea tastes bland. So even though you are not eating the entire leaves, you are not missing out much.

- The insoluble part of tea leaves consists mostly of proteins, fibers and carbohydrates. They have limited nutritional value. (Some Chinese tea experts even say they can be harmful.)

- Tea infusion is healthier than eating a whole leaf, because tea plants accumulate contaminants from soil and water. These contaminants are usually much less soluble in water.

Thus drinking tea protects you from environmental impurities. When you are taking a lot of tea daily, this is important.

I hope this helps.


Does anyone know how to get the clove smell out of my mortar/pestle? I ground some whole cloves in it for a recipe (which turned out not so good, in my opinion). However, now I cannot get the clove smell out!! It is marble, but it is definitely retaining the smell after several washes. Any ideas? Thank you.

Maybe grind some baking soda, or leave the baking soda in the mortar and pestle set for a couple days, to try to absorb smells. I believe that baking soda is safe to use on granite or marble. :)

I really enjoyed this post and all the comments! I have recently discovered that I really like cumin and am finding new ways to use it other than in homemade taco seasoning. We like that so much better than the packaged stuff!

I just got a mortar and pestle...I think it's granite or marble, not sure. About a year ago, I fell in love with aioli...essentially garlic mayonnaise. You can make garlic mayo by adding minced/pressed garlic and lemon juice to regular mayo, but it's traditionally made by grinding salt and fresh garlic in a M & P, adding an egg yolk, lemon juice and then slowly adding olive oil. It's absolutely fabulous! And since I really enjoy doing things the "traditional" way most of the time, I make it with the M & P. I did a post on my blog about it if you're interested:

Never even thought of grinding my own cumin, but I will definitely be doing that as soon as I can get some cumin seeds! And I definitely agree with toasting first...I recently learned to saute ground cumin a bit before adding beans to make refried beans and man oh man does that make them taste even better. I also add some fresh garlic too.

Thanks for your your recipes and encouraging thoughts!

Your garlic mayo sounds delicious! Making homemade mayonnaise is on my mental list of things to try soon! :)

You will love the whole cumin seeds! :)

Gomashio is simple to make. It is toasted sesame seeds ground in a seribachi with sea salt.

1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Toast the sesame seeds in a cast iron pan until brown. Stir continually while browning over medium heat. Once the seeds begin to pop you'll know they are ready.

Pour the seeds into your seriachi. Add the sea salt and grind until all the seeds are crushed and combined with the salt.

Use instead of table salt. This is a flavorful way to cut your salt intake. But so tasty you'.ll want to eat it like ice cream.

I totally agree with you, Tammy, about supporting American industry. We are giving most of our business to China and causing our own American people to be unemployed. Also China is one of the leading countries known for killing and persecuting Christians! They may be THE top country and we just keep supporting them. We must all ban toogether as Americans and say "NO more!" We've got to support and own country once again and get back to being self-sufficient before we bring our nation to ruins. It all starts in the house of God though. (If MY people who are called by MY name shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways THEN will I hear from heaven and will heal their land." Have a blessed day!

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