Mortar and Pestle

Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

Although often thought of as anachronistic, a good mortar and pestle are necessary for grinding certain ingredients when the action of a food processor either is too brutal or will not crush the ingredients in the way necessary to release their flavor.
Mortars and pestles are probably not used more often because good ones are difficult to find and can be very expensive. The best are relatively large and made from solid chunks of stone. Marble, granite, and other kinds of stone have the advantage of being very heavy, so that the mortar does not move around during grinding, and it does not absorb odors.

A good second choice is a heavy, glazed-porcelain mortar with an unglazed inner surface that acts as an abrasive and helps along the grinding. Because even porcelain mortars and pestles are expensive, cooks often buy them too small, which makes them very difficult to use efficiently. Shops selling Southeast Asian ingredients sometimes sell relatively inexpensive but efficient stone mortars and pestles from Thailand. A suribachi, a wide Japanese mortar with flaring sides and ribbed interior, is especially efficient for grinding sesame seeds.