A mortar and pestle can be a wonderful addition to your kitchen, allowing you to crush and pulverize spices and make a wide range of pastes and sauces.
Instead of simply cutting whole spices or herbs into tiny pieces, as a food processor or grinder might do, this low-tech alternative crushes them, extracting more aromatic oils and flavor compounds in the process. It takes a bit more effort than using an appliance, but fans of these tools swear by them.
Mortars and pestles can be made from a variety of materials, including granite, wood, metal, ceramic, and marble. When we tested mortars and pestles, we preferred ones made from rough granite or marble, as they were more abrasive than other materials, allowing us to quickly grind garlic into a fine pulp or pound pepper into powder.
The beauty of a mortar and pestle is its simplicity. It's just two pieces, easy to use, and easy to clean.
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Which Is the Mortar and Which Is the Pestle?
The mortar is the bowl-like part that sits on your countertop. The pestle is the club-like component that you use to pound spices and aromatics.
How Do I Clean a Mortar and Pestle?
The mortar and pestle is an extremely simple tool, and cleaning it is similarly simple.
If you have a new granite mortar and pestle, you need to season it before use in order to prevent stray particles from the stone from getting into your food. (Other mortars and pestles made from different materials do not need this step.)
Mortars and PestlesTo find the best mortar and pestle, we went back to the grind.
Regardless of the type of mortar and pestle you have, you’ll want to follow these steps to wash it:
- Wash by hand with warm water and dish soap. Yes, soap! (And for the record, it’s also fine to use soap on cast iron.) Some people say that the scent of the soap can be absorbed by more porous granite or basalt mortars and then transferred to the next food you put in them, but during testing, we didn’t find this to be the case. Soap helps sanitize your mortar and pestle and gets rid of any oils or flavors that might otherwise linger. Any dish soap you have will work. Use a scrub brush if you need to really work on any dried-on sauces or pastes.
- Dry completely before putting away. Use a clean dish towel to get rid of any obvious moisture and then air-dry on a dish rack. Excess moisture can cause your mortar and pestle to crack.
Once the mortar and pestle is dry, it’s ready to use again whenever you need. No maintenance or reseasoning is necessary.
For regular maintenance, you need to clean the mortar and pestle after every use—this is true for all mortars and pestles regardless of material. Otherwise, you’ll risk your guacamole tasting like the Szechuan peppercorns you pounded a few days ago to make Mapo Tofu.
We also recommend cleaning it as soon as possible after use, because it’s a lot harder to remove any residue from that pesto or mole sauce once it’s dried up and gotten all gunky.
SpicedThere's a world of possibility hidden in your pantry! Discover how to use spices to amp up the flavor of your food and get foolproof recipes that put these simple techniques to work.
What Should I Make with My Mortar and Pestle?
Here are a few recipes to get you started.
- Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Roast. It’s really easy to crack the half cup of peppercorns you need for this recipe with a mortar and pestle—no pepper grinder or giant food processor required
- Dukkah. A mortar and pestle lets you customize exactly how coarse you want each ingredient to be in this Egyptian spice blend.
- Pesto. Pesto and sauces of all kinds are especially delicious when made with a mortar and pestle—the pounding of the pestle helps extract more oils and flavors from your raw ingredients than you’d get when using a food processor. Pound your toughest and most fibrous ingredients first (garlic and pine nuts here) before adding softer ones.
- Green Curry Paste. Making curry paste from scratch is a somewhat lengthy process that will test your arm strength, but the results are worth it!