Herbal Gadgets: Fun Tools for your Kitchen

Mince, chop, peel, grate and grind your herbs and spices. Take a look at our favorite kitchen gadgets.

| December/January 1997

Many of us who harvest herbs to use with every meal have a fondness for gadgetry that can make the job easier or faster or more fun. Ah, we love these tools: the quintessential garlic press; the curved chopping blade, or mezzaluna, that’s perfect when you’re chopping herbs in time to rock music; the consummate nutmeg grinder that delivers delicate little flakes. We enjoy the beauty of a useful tool, the smoothness of a mortar made of marble or fine polished wood, the artfulness of a blade designed for one small job. Sure, any knife would probably do an adequate job of chopping, peeling, and mincing, but then we would miss the fun of searching out these other ways to do it.

We’ve put together an assortment of gadgets that almost any would-be chef would love to give or get this holiday season—or at any other time of year. Some of them will even fit into a stocking. Many come from gourmet kitchen stores and mail-order catalogs; others come from the kitchens of The Herb Companion staff members, antique stores, and grandmothers’ attics. Manufacturer or distributor information in the photo captions is keyed to the outline drawings adjacent to the photos and to a source list on page 48.

Mortar magic

Mortars and pestles, used for centuries to pound and crush foods and drugs alike, are indispensable in today’s kitchen. The more we use ours, the more uses we find for them, whether crushing whole spices to release their flavor, mashing fresh herbs with garlic and oil for savory pestos, or reducing a pile of nutmeats to a paste.

Mortars range in diameter from about 4 inches to 12 inches or more and come in a variety of styles, colors, and materials. We found handsome mortars made of marble, wood, glass, porcelain, brass, rough-textured stone, and even cast iron. They are available at any kitchen store or by mail order.


Pepper mills are available in a host of styles. Most can be adjusted to produce grinds from fine to coarse. Grinding your own spices ensures that they are as fresh and flavorful as possible. Someone who uses a lot of spices in cooking might appreciate a small mill to be used just for grinding spices. The tall metal mills (#7) evoke the ambience of Mediterranean restaurants and are available by mail order in steel, brass, and copper in a range of heights. Clear mills show you what you’re grinding; wooden ones in rustic or sleek finishes are also available.

Some mills and graters were created with a specific herb or spice in mind. Whole nutmegs can be rubbed across the roughened surface of a simple, small metal grater; some even have a little compartment for storing the nutmeg between gratings. If this seems like too much work or if you end up scraping your knuckles too often, you might prefer a clear acrylic nutmeg grinder (#9), which produces fine flakes at the turn of a handle. A porcelain dish with a ridged surface (#15) does a quick job of grating fresh ginger and catching any juice that might otherwise be lost on the cutting board.

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