The Ancient Tool That Will Complete Your Kitchen
Mortars and pestles have been around since the stone age, and even though hundreds if not thousands of kitchen tools have been invented since then, they still can fill an essential role in your kitchen. They are a very simple construction: a small bowl (mortar) and a small club (pestle). The basic mechanics of the mortar and pestle are that the repeated clubbing motion pulverizes spices or pills into a powder, or just loosely mixes, smushes and combines sauces and pastes, depending on the pressure used and length of clubbing. This simple tool is a very traditional and convenient way to process pesto, guacamole, salsas, spices, curry pastes, cocktails and even pharmaceuticals. The italian word “pesto” actually comes from the word pestle, and the tool seems to be found in most cultures, from Latin America to Japan.
Mortar and pestles also just look very elegant on a kitchen counter, and will feel like a truly special object in your kitchen.They are much less hassle to use and clean than having to drag a clunky and noisy (and let’s face it– pretty ugly) food processor out everytime you want to make a simple pesto or guacamole. They also can be used as attractive and rustic serving bowls so you don’t have to dirty another bowl. Again, I highly recommend this fairly inexpensive and very low tech kitchen tool as it is really magic to use a little elbow grease and watch a sauce come together in no time.
The material of the mortar and pestle will affect the performance. You can find mortar and pestles in various stones such as granite, marble and even volcanic rock, and also metal and wood. The harder materials, like rock, will be better for grinding things down to fine powders. The Mexican Molcajete is traditionally made out of volcanic rock and is used to prepare salsas, guacamoles and other sauces, but also is great for spices. The basalt stone makes a fantastic surface for grinding as it has a naturally rough texture. Metal mortar and pestles are traditional to India and are often used for loosely crushing spices, but not finely grinding since the club is not as heavy as stone. Wood mortar and pestles are also softer but could serve a variety of uses, from sauces to more fine grinds, as wood can be fairly hard but also has some give. When deciding on a mortar and pestle, keep in mind which material would be most useful to you.
I would not recommend porcelain or ceramic mortar and pestles at all, because the material is far too brittle and prone to cracking when applying the pressure needed to grind. I’m afraid they are just far too easy to break.
Best Mortar and Pestle: Our picks
Our Marble Pick
Marble is a great choice as it always looks very elegant on a countertop, and it is currently very trendy. It is a very sturdy choice and could be used for a variety of tasks, from finely grinding spices to loosely crushing pesto. This one would be better for smaller portions.
Our Granite Pick
This polished granite mortar and pestle is a great, easy-to-clean choice. The polished finish ensures it is non-porous, simply rinse it out with only water.
This Molcajete is made from authentic basalt stone and needs to be “seasoned” before the first use. Grind up uncooked rice in it to get the loose bits of grit out, and repeat this a few times when no pieces of stone appear in the rice powder you will be left with. Since the stone is porous, it is impossible to fully clean. Molcajetes are known to lend a distinct flavor to salsas and guacamoles because of this “seasoning” effect.
Our Metal Pick
This stainless steel is great for loosely crushing spices and would be a great choice if you are looking to crush up pressed pills. It’s easy to clean and sanitize and is very sturdy.