The Sesame Mill

While in New York last month, Maxence and I had lunch at Ippudo, a ramen place that’s the first American outpost of a popular Japanese chain. The decor was super sleek and the ramen excellent, but what really got me excited was the sesame mill that was propped on our table, keeping the shôyu company.

It was a simple thing, really: a plastic see-through container filled with toasted sesame seeds, mounted with a red cranking wheel and an open mouth at the top. To work it, you flipped the mill upside down, you turned the wheel by its tiny handle and, with the most delicate scrunching sound, out came a sprinkle of golden flecks.

It was the first time I’d seen anything like this. It was red, it was adorable, it was Japanese; I had to have one.

We enquired whether the restaurant might sell one to us* but, however amused they seemed to be by this strange case of love at first grind, they said no. My heart lying in shards on the floor, I let Maxence pry the mill from my clenched fingers.

Our waiter did point us to a nearby Japanese grocery store where they might stock them, but we came out empty-handed. And thus began my quest, in which I combed through every utensil and/or Asian store on my path, asking whether anyone had seen a short, cute, red-headed sesame grinder.

I very nearly found the object of my desire at Bowery Kitchen Supplies, in the Chelsea Market building: the remarkably friendly lady knew exactly what I was talking about, but they were all out, and waiting for a new order to come in. I was so crushed, she almost gave me a hug.

Fortunately, the quest was brought to a successful end on the other side of the continent, in Portland, Oregon, where I’d been invited to do a reading at Powell’s. My media escort** in Portland, Sandra, an enthusiastic cook herself, was kind enough to drive me around to several places of interest in my free time, and places of interest included a cooking equipment store that did not carry hand-cranked sesame grinders, but where the owner recommended we visit Anzen, a family-run Japanese store that’s been around for decades.

And sure enough, there they were, on a shelf, not one but two different models of sesame mills. None were the same as the one I’d test-driven at Ippudo, but I was in no position to be choosy, so I simply picked the one that felt the sturdiest. It was also the most expensive — a whopping $4.99, as I recall (and, get this: no! sales! tax! in Oregon!).

I carried it with me down the West Coast for the rest of my book tour, then brought it home to Paris, where I introduced it to its new pals, the single-thumb pepper grinder and the callipygian nutmeg shaver, and marveled at how well it matched the color of my couch.

Now filled with toasted unhulled sesame seeds, it is my new favorite toy, and I wield it with abandon over grated carrot salads, pea pod soups, and sliced strawberries. When it’s empty, I will refill it with a mix of sesame seeds and sea salt to make gomasio (I use a ratio of 4 tablespoons toasted sesame to 1 teaspoon salt).

Oh, and if you’re of the party-pooping mind that a gadget serving only one purpose is a waste of space, I’ll have you know that this one can also be used to grind flaxseed. So there.


* I would never ever have asked in a French restaurant, but this was America, the land where it’s okay to have business sense.

** In the publishing business, a media escort (chuckle all you like) is someone who acts as the publicist’s local agent and takes care of authors who come from out of town for events and media appearances. (Read more book tour stuff if you’re curious.)


Ippudo / map it!
65 Fourth Avenue, New York, NY
+1 212 388 0088

Bowery Kitchen Supplies / map it!
Chelsea Market
460 W 16th St., New York, NY
+1 212 376 4982

Anzen Hiroshi’s Inc. / map it!
736 NE Martin Luther King Blvd, Portland, OR
+1 503 233 5111‎

  • CP

    Doesn’t callipygian mean beautiful bum?

  • Indeed, it does — it means having well-shaped and generous buttocks/hips. It’s most often used to describe statues, but I think my nutmeg shaver fits the description.

  • ni

    Now I need one too. Good thing I live in Toronto: lots of Asian stores :) I am so EXCITED. I love gadgets.

  • Fun! Single-use gadgets are fine if you actually use them regularly. And if they delight your heart.

    And I have to tell you, when I was in Paris last (years ago, alas), I really wanted a pastis carafe. I asked the waiter at my usual cafe where I could get one and he suggested the Marché aux Puces. I looked there with no luck, and told him so the next day.

    “Come back this evening,” he said with a wink. I did, he slyly underhanded one to me and said “Enjoy your pastis in America!”

  • Yeah, Portland rules. I remember going to Anzen as a kid – my brother was a big fan of the hom bau (sp?)

    Do you think it would be possible to find a sesame grinder in Paris? There are a multitude of Asian markets and restaurant supply stores… surely one of them carries something like that.

  • I have the same pepper grinder! It has an interesting story too that I learned while at a music industry trade show — the company that makes the pepper grinder, Vic Firth, is actually a drumstick & mallet company; they bought a warehouse that happened to house a small pepper mill factory, and rather than shut down the factory & put everyone out of work, Vic Firth decided that in addition to drumsticks and mallets, the company would also start selling high quality pepper grinders!!

  • EB

    Oh sure… I reeeeaally needed to need another gadget! Great. Just great. Luckily I live in San Francisco. You want esoteric Asian kitchen gadgetry? We got it!

  • If you aren’t of a mind to buy the gadget, a mortar and pestle makes quick work of sesame seeds, or sesame seeds with salt (gomasio). I love a bit of this sprinkled on roasted vegetables, like asparagus.

  • My mother sent me one from Japan a couple of years ago and I absolutely love it. And, it’s easier for your body to digest and absorb sesame nutrients if the shell has been cracked.

  • Jen

    I have been debating buying a grinder for flax seed for the longest time but didn’t want an electric one and hadn’t seen any cute human powered ones but now that I know they exist I will be on the lookout.

  • So interesting! I was just looking at this 2 days ago when I went out shopping. I was wondering what it was. Btw, if anyone else needs to get it, they sell it at SurLaTable.

  • I found mine in New York, too, at a store called Kiosk in Soho, and I blogged about it a few weeks ago. Such a fun toy (oops — tool) to have in the kitchen.

  • Katie

    Wow, I can’t say I ever thought I’d read about you shopping at Anzen! It’s such a good store.

  • Hello Clotilde,
    love your post. I’m the same when it comes to desirable kitchen equipments, & would get all passionate about getting it. I’m happy to hear you got it in the end!
    (by the way, i love your pepper grinder!!! what is the brand? where can it be purchased?)

    You might be interseted to hear of another equipment that I’ve been desire-ing (you might like it too!) – it’s an individual salad dressing server – it has it’s own pump so that you can mix it. The pump looks just like a coffee press!

  • I have long heard that flax seeds must be ground, rather than whole, to maximize their benefits to the body.

    other things, like peppercorns, are better when freshly ground (thus the grinder) than ground and packaged in advance.

    do sesame seeds fall into either or both camps? is the taste markedly different than using whole toasted?

  • linda

    ah but this one is almost nearly the same as the one at ippudo. glad you found one!

  • miho

    Freshly ground sesame smell nice and taste good indeed.We Japanese make gomasio like you and we also make syouyugoma(soy-sauce plus sesame,the more sesame the better) and use as dressing.It goes well with boiled peas!Try it!
    I eat sesame almost every day but I still grind it with a bowl and a woodden stick! I have to have this mill.

  • Oh, now I have mill-envy! Once again, something I will never be able to find in Berlin and will have to bribe my friends to buy in New York for me! I wonder, Clotilde, would you know where to find this in Paris?

  • Florence

    When it comes to grinding spices, I have found nothing coming quite close to my coffee grinder (that I solely use for that purpose, wiping it carefully after each use, so no particular spice smell becomes too dominant). But in the case of sesame seeds the coffee grinder or good old pestle and mortar have a tendency to mush it down too much and turn it into a paste rather than dry powder because of the seed’s high oil content. So this type of flax/sesame seed grinder might come in handy. As for nutmeg, my Microplane is fast, easy and does a beautiful job.

  • Aaaargh!
    I didn’t know these existed, but now I really need one too… I’m a big fan of sesame: I have sesame oil and white and black seeds on stock in my kitchen. Wish me luck finding one in the Netherlands…. Can’t wait to fill it black & white sesame seeds, yum!

  • Super pratique!
    Flo Bretzel

  • Kat

    The sesame grinder is one of many little extras that make Ippudo better than your average hole-in-the-wall. But you know, the sesame coming out is usually so aromatic that I think they fill the grinder with lightly-toasted seeds.

    I don’t know about in the states, but in Japan they also provide kimchi bean sprouts, garlic cloves + press, and ginger on the table. Best of all, they’ll even ask you how soft/done you like your noodles! :) Nothing to beat the rainy season like a fully-loaded bowl of ramen.

  • Grace

    My mother has the same exact sesame grinder/mill. I believe you can purchase one from any or most asian food markets.

  • Funny timing – I just picked one of those up last week. If you’ve got your heart set on a cute little red one like you’ve got pictured, I’d be happy to ship one out to you. They’re all over San Francisco in Asian houseware stores.

  • Christina

    yay! thank you so much for telling us about the sesame mill! whenever i put sesame seeds in my dishes, i would have to try to either crush them with my fingers (not really effective in getting that lovely oil out of those tiny seeds) or i would have to hunt for a mortar/pestle (which always seems to be missing). this is so much better and effective. thanks! :o)

  • That’s a nice gadget indeed that I’ve been managing – to tremendous efforts – not to buy until now. I believe that similar mills can be found in Paris at Kioko, on rue des Petits Champs.

  • One single-use gadget I can’t live without is my Oxo mango slicer! I have no problem cutting a mango with a knife, but the slicer is just so simple and cool! I think my mango consumption has quadrupled since getting the slicer.

  • I bought this exact sesame grinder about 4 years ago at Pearl River Mart in SOHO or Korin Japanese Trading Corp. on Warren St. I LOVE IT!!!

  • I too have this pepper grinder, and its salt cohort, as well. I found the happy couple at Olive et Gourmando in Montreal, and it was one of my best gadget buys ever (partly because I was on vacation when I happened upon them — funny how that adds to our sense of conquest and satisfaction!). Enjoy your new kitchen addition!

  • If you really enjoy it, and have the use of it, it’s not a gadget anymore :)

    I remember, in a French cafe (Au Soleil de la Butte), a friend of mine so enticed of a glass I actually asked for it with a smile…And got it for free. But they used to see me every day, unlike your restaurant!

  • Tracy

    I just started reading your blog (love it, by the way!) and was quite bemused to see this post. I live in Portland and my husband got me one of these for my birthday last year. Quite possibly the best gift I ever received – I don’t know how I ever lived without it all my life.

    Best of all – my model is called a Slicky!

  • I felt nostalgic when I saw the sesame grinder, as I treasure mine, bought in Tokyo where I lived many years ago before settling in Morocco. But I’m originally from Portland, and my favorite place to get all the Japanese goodies that I craved was Anzen – glad to hear it’s still the best!

  • anna

    I want one!! such fun.

  • Beth

    It appears to be wearing a rakishly tilted Santa hat.

    Much as this gadget would have appealed to me three years ago, now that I have a dangerously sesame-allergic toddler, I can’t help regarding it as a means of rendering sesame seeds–already menacingly small and ubiquitous–into a substance even more difficult to identify or contain. Oh, how I hope he outgrows this!

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, Clotilde.

  • Beth

    . . . or a party-pooper, as it were.

  • Yes and we all know how important it is for our sesame grinders to match our furnishings:-)

  • C Watson

    Look for “sesame grinder” at It’s exactly the same. Best – CW

  • Peter

    I think this is the genuine item:

  • Bea

    Oh yes, I have had one for 8 years, offered as a gift from a friend who lived in japan for a year ;-) Try black sesame seeds in it, even better! Funny, mine is just the same red. I wonder if it comes in other colors ;-)

  • Funny – I grew up with that red thing being Japanese and all. I love it and I hate it — because it gets gunky with sesame and can be hard to clean sometimes. But it does impart the flecks, aromatic and I like it so much better than whole toasted sesame seeds.

  • okay, now there are TWO new gadgets i need, because i’d never seen that nutmeg shaver either.

  • Mandy

    I am on a similar search for a different object of desire: the sugar bowls they used to have in cafes in Italy where the lid would pop up when the spoon on the side was removed… You inspired me to keep looking, even after all these years!

  • this is great. can’t wait to get my own!

  • There’s nothing I enjoy more than a new gadget for the kitchen. And just when I thought I had seen (or owned) them all, here’s a new one for me to try. Thanks!

  • trudeau

    I’m glad you found that you like this gadget. I too purchased it with high hopes after seeing it at the store. I found though that the grind was inconsistent, many seeds got through unground! Maybe I got a lemon but all of the ones I handled were flimsy…to be expected at that price. In December I was in Japan at my in-laws house and they were using this one:
    Grinds like a dream! I brought my mother-in-laws back with me to the states and am loving it. The one at that link seems expensive but I think there are a lot of sources for those.

  • Je pensais que c’était un gadget de Noël. Qu’est-ce que les Américains ne peuvent pas inventer.

  • Y

    I’m not a gadget freak, but heck yes that IS a pretty cute kitchen.

    Sort of erm.. also looks like a combination between Santa Claus and a sex aid at the same time, doesn’t it?

  • Maureen

    Ah…there is nothing like being on the hunt for a new cooking toy. I remember going to China and trying to find a Mongolian hot pot – had everyone in our group looking for one to no avail. Some friends took pity on me and finally found a gorgeous one in Seattle. Of course, once gotten I now find them everywhere. With the sesame grinder – does this mean I also have to buy this cute sesame roaster I see at The House of Rice store.

  • I live right next to Ippudo and still haven’t tried it! You should definitely check out Ramen Setagaya, Minca, and Momofuku if you get the chance while you’re here in NYC ;)

  • Rachel

    I always knew you were cool enough but you call it shoyu too!!!???
    I thought it was a Hawaii pidgin thing…I get funny looks when I say it.
    Now I need udon. MMM…mmmmmm….

  • Asako

    My favorite is this Kyocera celamic sesami mill.

  • I am indeed a no single purpose gadgets kind of gril. But this one has me tempted!

  • I’ve just gone back from Ipputo restaurant where my Japanese friends invited me and I’ve been falling in love with the Sesam Mill too. So I decided to do some research about this ustensil and i discovered your article wich made me smile because I lived exactely the same story that you excepted that I have not find this fantasic object yet ;-)
    So if you have an idea about a New York’s place which would sell this thing…I’m very interested!!!
    (sorry for my bad english ;-) it’s why I’m in NY right now ;-))

  • In case you’re looking for the exact same model:
    The one originally pictured is from Bell-One. It also comes in all white and I’ve seen it it all red too. One online retailer is

    I’ve seen it at my local Asian super grocery store Uwajimaya (Seattle) for about $4.50

  • Nancy Wallack

    For those wary of one-function gadget, check out mills with Crush-Grind (TM) ceramic mechanism usable for any seed, pepper, salt, spices. Made by several manufacturers (e.g. T-G, Kuhn-Rikon), they come with glass bottles, so you can see what you’re grinding and change contents easily.

  • Monique

    Gomasio is the best way to make people enjoy brown rice — I learned that some 30 years ago at a macrobiotic restaurant near my first internship. This little red mill is very handy, durable and inexpensive. Here in SF I found it in Japantown for probably around $5. The Japanese housewares chain store Daiso carries a similar one (very cheap but not great quality) for $1.50 ;)

  • I love these little gadgets that make having a kitchen so much fun! Thanks for also including the stores I can obtain one at. Very helpful!

  • Crystal

    OMG I can’t believe this. I went to Ippudo in Hong Kong and fell in love with that little sesame gadget!! It was so much fun using it I almost turned my ramen soup into paste… LOL. Then I went to Sogo and other supermarkets in Hong Kong, figuring it would be a very easy matter of buying one, and couldn’t find it! If I had time I would have went back to Ippudo and asked to buy one. So now back in the U.S. I continue my search, and your site is the first one that pops up!!

  • Pennywhistler

    I wouldn’t use it to grind flax seeds, myself. It isn’t designed to do that.

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