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The black pepper I buy come in containers where you can grind it on use and they come out fine but not super fine.

I'm just wondering :

  1. how do powder suppliers e.g. the companies which make curry powders etc make black pepper so fine?

  2. What can I use to make my peppercorns more fine, it seems the store containers with grinder do just as good a job as a purpose bought pepper grinder(mill I think its called)?

  3. How does a mortar and pestel compare to above? I imagine the pepper is always much bigger?

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    Most decent pepper mills, even cheap ones, usually have an adjustment for how close together the grinding surfaces are positioned. This is usually a knob or screw of some sort and often is also used to open/close the mill to be able to add additional pepper corns. In some cases, you can tighten these too tight, to the point where the mill can not be operated. Usually, the tighter these are, the finer the grind. Does the pepper mill you are using have such an adjustment? Have you tried adjusting it? – Makyen Oct 16 at 19:48
  • @Makyen it took me a few months to figure that trick. Nowadays, I mostly buy cheap peppercorns (Zayed?) from the Arab stores, and grind 4oz batches down fine with my motorized corn mill (for Masa). The result is a much more flavorful, and cheaper, product than you can buy pre-ground, out of a can. For extremely fine, a small flour mill, like Vittorio's, works well. That said, I don't need pepper flour very often. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 17 at 0:57
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Better grinding and sieving

If you think about it - spice powders are essentially flour. Pop it in a good blender. Blend, let it settle and sieve to required consistency. Repeat with oversized particles.

In an industrial setting this would likely mean a large mill and vibrating sieves, but you can, very carefully get the same results on a smaller scale. I believe some folks also use coffee mills for this, though obviously not one you have or intend to use for coffee.

For small quantities, you could probably use a spice mill or mill attachment on a blender. Just take your time.

Its also worth remembering a pepper mill cracks not grinds pepper.

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    Also worth noting that the factory doesn't need to ensure a consistent size grind or even re-grind the larger particles ... they can sieve it and then sell it as 'coarse ground', regular, and 'fine ground' black pepper – Joe Oct 16 at 16:05
  • A good mortar and pestle can also achieve a very fine grind...with enough patience and good technique. – J... Oct 16 at 17:58
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An industrial grinding mill at a, uh, ground pepper factory (Caution! Extreme sneezing danger!) is not fundamentally different in design from your plastic store-bought mill. It consists of two hard surfaces which are very close together, and the pepper will be crushed and ground between them.

As Journeyman Geek mentioned, sieving will often be part of this process, but a good mill will be able to produce a very fine grind even without sieving. (In fact, sieving is usually used to remove dust so that the grind isn't too fine, not to exclude larger pieces.)

The store-bought mill you have, unfortunately, is not a good mill. The surfaces won't be kept a consistent distance from each other, meaning that large pieces of pepper will sometimes escape the mill. As the grinder wears down -- which it will, quickly, since the pieces are just extruded plastic -- it'll get even worse at this.

It is possible to buy really, really good spice mills, and you will pay a really, really high price for them. Much more practical is a coffee grinder. You can use either an upright blade-style grinder or a burr grinder... coffee purists insist on the latter, but that's because it'll produce less coffee dust, which is not something you're concerned about, and a blade-style grinder makes it easier to see and control the final grind. (Do NOT use one grinder for both spices and coffee. Grinders are not easy to clean. Your curry will taste of coffee and your coffee will taste of cumin.) Oh, and don't buy an antique-looking mill with the central spindle unsupported at the top -- these are very pretty but awful at grinding.

Mortar and pestles: Meh. There's a wide variety of those. The ones with a rough surface are fairly easy to use, but won't produce a fine grind. The smoother ones can grind hard, dry stuff to an infinitesimal grain size but will take forever to do so with plant matter like peppercorns. (If you must use one of these, add a bit of salt as an abrasive.)

  • I've got a preloaded salt mill with ceramic surfaces and adjustable spacing. I don't recall it being expensive, but I bought it on holiday in France. So they can exist at a low price point. BTW not cumin, but cardamom in coffee is good – Chris H Oct 16 at 11:01
  • If the ultimate goal is uniform grind size, and the ability to control size, then a burr grinder is going to be a quantum leap better than a blade grinder. – dwizum Oct 16 at 16:36
  • Uniform grind size is not generally going to be a primary concern when grinding spices. "Fine enough" is generally what you're going for. – Sneftel Oct 16 at 16:42

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