The Best Mortar and Pestle For Grinding Spices
The mortar and pestle is one of humanity’s oldest culinary tools. It predates agriculture by thousands of years. Hundreds of examples have been found, and many families pass down a mortar and pestle set through the generations. With the advent of electric tools like blenders, food processors, and spice grinders, the mortar and pestle has fallen to the wayside. However, these appliances can’t truly replace a good mortar and pestle for many tasks. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this ancient culinary tool.
What is a mortar and pestle used for?
The mortar (the bowl) and pestle (the wand) have found many uses in various culinary traditions. The most common use is for grinding spices, seeds, and grains. Crushing spices offers a different flavor than the cutting you get from food processors and spice grinders. If you want the most out of your spices, a mortar and pestle can be very useful.
You will also see mortar and pestle used to puree ingredients like garlic and make sauces like aioli and pesto. In fact, a truly good pesto needs a mortar and pestle to get the creamy result you want. Pastes common in many Asian cuisines like Thai curry paste and many found in Indian cooking require a mortar and pestle. If you know you will mainly use your mortar and pestle for these applications, it’s best to buy the type of mortar and pestle common to that culinary tradition.
How to use a mortar and pestle
The best mortar and pestle will let you process your ingredients quickly. You both strike and grind using the pestle to turn your ingredients into a paste or powder. For most grinding, all you need to do is roll the pestle in the spices until you reach the desired consistency. For larger ingredients, you can use short, sharp strikes to break them down until you can grind them successfully.
Making paste is similar. You grind the dry ingredients, then slowly add you liquid or oil and process until you reach the right consistency. This is the technique used for pesto, mayonnaise and aioli. This is the traditional way of making these sauces.
What to look for when buying a mortar and pestle
When you’re buying a mortar and pestle, you need to consider what you want it for. If you only want to grind fresh spices for your dishes, a smaller mortar will work. However, for making pesto and curry paste, you need a much larger mortar and pestle. Going for a larger size gives you more versatility.
Mortar and pestles now come in many materials, however, not all work as well. The best material is a hard stone like granite. So long as they aren’t polished, this rough surface will help you grind more efficiently. Ceramic tends to be as hard, but it will break if you try to pound hard ingredients.
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You can also find all wood models, glass, and metal. Certain metals can work nicely, and some cultures make their mortar and pestles out of metal traditionally. Wood can work well, but it can hold onto flavors and taint your next batch of spices. Glass is most commonly seen for decorative use or for grinding medications. It isn’t as good for use on food.
No matter what material you pick, you need to be sure the pestle is a good match. You want one long enough to ensure you won’t run your hand into the side while using it. The pestle also needs to be wide enough to ensure your ingredients are ground efficiently and can’t escape out the sides. Pestle can be made out of the same material as the mortar, or they can be made of another material like wood. So long as it is heavy and tough enough to grind effectively, this isn’t as important and the material of the mortar.
If you know you will be making mainly food from one culture, buying an example of their traditional mortar and pestle is a good idea. A classic Thai set will make a great curry paste and grind spices well, while your traditional Mediterranean mortar and pestle will make a good pesto as well as aioli. However, it may not work for whole spices as well or tough ingredients common in curry pastes.
If you want to have options, then look for a mortar and pestle that will perform many techniques well. Generally, this means a heavy stone mortar and pestle with a large capacity. You want at least 4 cups. Given that many mortar and pestle sets are made purely for decorative use, be sure you check measurements rather than trust a manufacturer’s claims of it being a large mortar.
The Best Mortar and Pestle For Grinding Spices
While you read our reviews, be sure to keep in mind what you want your mortar and pestle for.
1. Tera Mortar and Pestle Set with Lid
The Tera mortar and pestle set is a nice basic option made out of granite that offers a 1 and a half cup capacity. This makes it sized well for grinding spices, but you may find it lacking for making sauces like pesto. The manufacturer claims a 2 cup capacity, but users have noted that it holds less.
This set includes a lid to contain any spices you’re grinding as well as a non-slip pad to protect surfaces and a garlic peeler. Thanks to the heavy stone, you can grind easily and you don’t need to worry about staining with the unpolished interior and pestle. The pestle is also a good size for the mortar, meaning you can grind without having spices escape.
One thing to note is that this mortar and pestle do require seasoning. You can use rice to do this. The mortar and pestle does include instructions on how to do this.
- Larger size
- Made of granite
- Includes lid and non-slip pad
- Pestle is a good size
- Heavy enough to process well
- Not fully 2 cups
- Heavy, making it hard to handle for some
- Might be a bit small for those with large hands
- Requires a lot of work to season before first use
2. Vasconia 4-Cup Granite Molcajete Mortar and Pestle
The Vasconia molcajete is a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle. Made of granite, it has a 4 cup capacity. This makes it good not only for grinding spices, but also making guacamole the traditional way. You can also process many other soft foods and even make baby food using this molcajete.
It can’t be washed in the dishwasher, but most stone mortar and pestle sets need to be hand washed without soap anyway. One thing to note as well is that this is made of granite. A truly traditional molcajete is made solely of basalt. If you want a truly traditional option, it may be best to look elsewhere.
On the pestle, the shape may make it uncomfortable to use over time or with long use. It is also a bit short. Another thing to note is that the interior may be too smooth. While this does mean less work to season it before you use it, you may find it doesn’t break though tough skins on peppers and tomatoes as well as you’d like. This means it might not work as well for a chunky salsa.
Many others noted that the seasoning process took a long time and was quite difficult. If you know you will have difficulty with working with it for hours, you may need one that has been pre-seasoned or perhaps pre-owned.
- Large capacity for making salsa or guacamole
- Made of stone
- Looks beautiful enough to be used to serve
- Short pestle
- Needs lots of work to season
- Might be too smooth
3. Jamie Oliver Mortar and Pestle
This is a nice, sturdy mortar and pestle with a large capacity. It is also made of granite, though you can decide whether you want a polished or unpolished version. The pestle is a decent size, and the large size means you can make pesto or guacamole in it without a problem.
It does require some seasoning before use, and you may want to keep the online listing for care instructions. There are no real instructions included in the package, besides a note to wash in soapy water, which the online listing says you shouldn’t do.
Another thing to note is that the packaging is very minimal particularly for the pestle. There have been many reports of the pestle arriving broken. Be careful when buying, since this seems to be a very common issue. While the brand and manufacturing is high quality, the padding of the packaging isn’t.
- Big capacity
- High quality granite
- Pestle is large enough to be effective
- Can be purchased either polished or unpolished
- Poor packaging results in frequently broken pestles
- Poor instructions can be confusing
4. Kota Japan Marble Mortar & Pestle
This beautiful marble set from Kota Japan is a nice option if you want something for grinding small amounts while also looking nice. If you don’t have much storage space, you won’t be upset to have this sitting out.
It does work effectively, thanks to a well-sized pestle and the natural marble material. It doesn’t have much capacity though. You can’t fit a whole avocado. In fact, the best size description I can give is that the mortar’s bowl is about the size of a lime.
If you’re looking for a larger mortar and pestle, this isn’t a good option. However, if you only need a small capacity this will work well. It also works great for medications and supplements. If you need something that can reduce a pill to powder to hide it from a picky pet, this will work great.
- Made of marble
- Grinds effectively
- Pestle is the perfect size
- Small capacity
- Won’t work for sauces like pesto unless you make very small amounts
- Might scratch counters unless you add a pad to the bottom
5. EZ-Grip Silicone & Porcelain Mortar and Pestle
The EZ-Grip mortar and pestle is made from porcelain with silicone added to the base and handle to help keep your mortar from sliding around while you use it. Because it is made of porcelain, it won’t carry smells or stains and you can wash it in the dishwasher.
The pestle is a good size and gives plenty of room to grip and grind. However, it is fairly small. This makes it a poor choice if you need a larger mortar. The porcelain material does make this a good option if you want to use your mortar for grinding up medication as well as spices. Since it washes up easily, you won’t have any cross-contamination.
One downside is that porcelain can’t take the type of grinding and pounding that a stone mortar can. Older reviews note breakage in the bottom. However, a new base design should make this less likely. It’s still best to pick a different mortar material if you will be breaking down tough spices or herbs.
- Easy to clean
- Easy to grip
- Won’t slide around or scratch counters
- Won’t carry smells or flavors
- Might be fragile
- Small capacity
This mortar and pestle set from PriorityChef is made of black granite, which is perfect for grinding together both wet and dry ingredients. The granite is not only attractive but is also easy to clean. In addition, because it’s so durable and hard, the pestle will never create any type of dust reside, and neither the mortar nor pestle will scratch easily.
The PriorityChef mortar has a two-cup capacity, and the 6-inch pestle is large enough to grind avocado pieces, peppers, tomatoes, or other larger chunks of food. Chefs can make everything from guacamole to spice rubs using this set. The weight of the mortar makes it stable, but two non-slip pads are also included to keep the mortar firmly in place while you grind your ingredients. The pestle is designed to be comfortable and easy to hold, despite its heft.
The mortar and pestle must be seasoned before use, but an included instructional booklet makes this process simple. After seasoning, the mortar and pestle can be cleaned by grinding dry white rice and wiping away any dust. The set, like any stone mortar and pestle set, can also be rinsed with water and left to air dry.
For a mortar and pestle that can tackle even the biggest cooking projects, this set from ChefSofi is often an excellent choice. This mortar has a five-cup capacity, so making large batches of guacamole, salsa, pesto, spice rubs, or nearly anything else you can think of is no problem. The set includes two pestles, 8.5-inches and 6.5-inches respectively, so chefs can choose the right size for the task at hand. The larger pestle is perfect for crushing up larger pieces of food while the smaller pestle works well for grinding or mixing.
This mortar and pestle set is made of unpolished granite, which helps to quickly and evenly crush or grind whatever you’re blending. Granite is not a porous stone, so the set is easy to clean and won’t retain flavors or smells. The mortar has a wide base and deep bowl that aids in keeping ingredients in place. Chefs won’t need to worry about the mortar moving around while in use, either. The base of the mortar is wide and also has a non-skid felt pad underneath it. The weight of the mortar also helps to stabilize the set while it is in use.
8. One Goods-1
The porcelain base and bamboo accents of the mortar and pestle set from One Goods-1 make it an attractive addition to any kitchen. The mortar has a porcelain bowl that measures 4.7 inches wide by 1.9 inches tall. A slightly wider bamboo coaster helps to keep the mortar steady while you use it. This coaster can also be turned upside-down and used as a perfect lid. The pestle is 4.8 inches tall with a porcelain grinding head and a bamboo handle. The handle is shaped to fit comfortably in the hand.
The porcelain surface on the pestle and the inside of the mortar are unpolished, so they are still rough. This helps to grind food, spices, or pills more efficiently. The porcelain is incredibly easy to clean and won’t absorb odors. The white color may stain, however, when used with strongly pigmented foods. Because it’s porcelain, the mortar and pestle won’t need to be seasoned, either. The material is lighter than stone, so it is much simpler to move this set around whenever necessary.
For those seeking a mortar and pestle set that is incredibly easy to use and clean but still offers an authentic feel, the granite mortar and pestle from HiCoup is pretty much perfect. This set, which is designed in Toronto and produced by a family business, is made of non-porous, unpolished granite. The roughness of the granite helps to evenly grind foods, herbs, spices, or pills, and because it doesn’t absorb liquids, it won’t retain smells or flavors and is resistant to staining. The granite also makes it very easy to clean this set. It’s even dishwasher safe, so clean up is always a breeze.
The weight of this large mortar and pestle set means that grinding even very dry or hard ingredients is simple. The heft of the mortar also helps it stay firmly in place while it’s in use. The bowl of the mortar is about 4 inches wide and the pestle is about 5.5 inches long, so chefs can use this large set to tackle even the biggest cooking projects. The black and gray pattern of the mortar makes it a statement piece in the kitchen, and the rough outer surface is not only attractive but offers a throwback to more ancient mortar and pestle sets.
The mortar and pestle set from FestMex offers chefs the feel and appearance of traditional Mexican mortar and pestles. This set, which is handmade in Mexico, features a mortar that measures 7 inches across and 5 inches tall and a pestle that is about 4.5 inches long. The bowl capacity is two cups. The set is carefully carved from volcanic stone, and the rough surface is perfect for crushing or grinding. This set was specifically designed for making salsas or guacamole, but it’s also a good choice for crushing herbs or grinding pills.
The mortar features small but sturdy traditional feet which keep it firmly in place during use. The pestle is designed to be both comfortable in the hand and easy to use. Both pieces are made to last for decades, and the set comes with an instructional card that covers care, including how to season and how to clean the set. Although the set is originally gray in color, once it has been seasoned and is used a few times, the color will usually darken and eventually the set will take on a rich black hue. Because the stone is not porous, the set is easy to clean and can either be rinsed out with water and left to dry or wiped clean with a cloth.