When you’re looking beyond prepackaged spices and getting ready to grind your own fresh cinnamon, cloves, pepper, cumin, and more, there’s no tool more useful than a mortar and pestle. Spices, garlic, nuts or seeds are placed in a mortar and then crushed with a pestle to release fresh flavors and oils. You’ll really notice the difference in flavor!
Choosing a Mortar and Pestle
1. Choose the size you want.
Do you want to crush a lot of spices, seeds and nuts, or just a small amount? You’ll find them in sizes ranging from palm size to bowl size, and if you have the space and the budget, it might even be convenient to have two different sizes.
If you plan to grind a large amount of spices, then purchasing a spice grinder may be a better fit for your needs. A mortar and pestle is best for making enough spices for any dish or spice blend you want to use right away.
2. Choose the right material according to your needs.
Mortars and pestles are usually made in sets. The mortar is a small bowl and the pestle is a perfectly curved wand that grinds smoothly over the mortar. The instrument may be made of wood, stone or ceramic, you will need to choose your material according to your culinary needs and personal preferences.
Ceramic mortars and pestles are capable of grinding spices very finely, but they are also more brittle than other types.
Wood mortar and pestle are durable, but also slightly porous and prone to stains. It is also possible for the flavor of one spice to remain in the mortar between uses, contaminating the flavor of the next spice you grind.
Marble mortars and pestles can also be ground very finely, but unless they are properly conditioned, the fine stone particles will be ground into spices.
Use Basic Techniques
1. Read recipe for handling instructions.
This is the ideal tool if you need to grind something into a paste or powder. Items suitable for grinding or crushing in the mortar and pestle include peppercorns, spice seeds, herb seeds, fresh herbs and spice leaves, rice, nuts, other plant seeds, hard candies, sea salt, and more. Anything intended for baking or eating can be crushed, most likely in a mortar and pestle.
If you need to chop, mash, or blend something, it’s better to use another tool, such as a blender or processor. Cookbooks are usually a guide in this regard.
2. Put the ingredients in the mortar.
Measure out whole peppercorns, cinnamon, or other ingredients and place them in a mortar. Fill the mortar with raw spices to no more than ⅓; otherwise, it will be difficult to get an even grind. If you have too much to fit, process the spices in batches.
3. Use a pestle to process to your desired consistency.
Hold the mortar in place with one hand, hold the pestle with the other, and turn the pestle against the ingredients in the mortar so that they are ground on the bottom and sides of the mortar. Grind, mash or crush all the spices evenly, using a pestle to mix and grind them until they are all reduced to the same consistency. Continue until the ingredients are as thick or thin as you want.
4. Store or measure out ingredients.
You can place the freshly ground mortar into a glass spice jar with a tight-fitting lid, or go ahead and measure out how much your recipe calls for.