How to use a mortar and pestle:
- Place the food in the mortar (bowl) in small quantities
- Use some downward pressure over the food with the pestle (pounder)
- With hard foodstuffs, like peppercorns and even pills, move the pestle back and forth over it with some pressure until it breaks up
- Turn the pestle in a circular motion around the mortar, maneuvering it back and forth with a bit of pressure over still unbroken pieces.
It doesn't take long to get used to using a mortar and pestle. Whether it's to grind some peppercorns, or your coffee beans, or avocadoes for guacamole, a mortar and pestle set can be a handy non-electric kitchen tool.
- Choose the least absorbent materials when you need purity in what you crush.
- Choose the most absorbent when you want the flavor to carry on to the next batch that you grind.
- Choose the size based on the size and quantity of the ingredients
Marble is very hard and a favorite for all around use. It has medium resistance to the absorption of odors and moisture, depending, to a great extent, on the density of the stone used to fashion it.
Porcelain is the least likely to stain and it does well with foods that contain moisture. Can be easily cleaned and is dishwasher safe.
Vitrified Ceramic is fired to a temperature where all the molecules in the clay completely fuse together thus forming a fully sealed non porous solid. The finish of the piece may be safely left matt for better grip and to aid grinding.
Stoneware (ceramic) unit use ridges for better grip. Wash well and dry thoroughly to reduce staining and absorption of flavor by the unglazed interior. A stiff nylon-bristle brush helps clean between the ridges.
Wood is best when used with the same flavored food, since it does absorb. We don't recommend using it with moist food.
Iron is great with harder ingredients. If you don't use it too often, keep it lightly oiled. (Food grade mineral oil is tasteless, odorless, and doesn't go rancid.) With proper care, this set will last a long, long time.
Lava Stone, in the form of the molcajete, is great for all types of tasks, especially in preparing large quantities. The stone needs to be seasoned before first use, to stabilize its surface.
Granite, like lava, will also absorb to some degree, based on the density of the stone used to fashion it, and it may also, as a result, trap food in its pores. Usually quite hard, and good for larger and harder ingredients.
Notes of interest:
- The Japanese call it a suribachi (also a volcanic bowl at Iwo Jima) and suricogi (wood pestle).
- The Mexicans call it a molcajete (seasoning bowl) and tejolote (from stone doll) for the pestle. It seems they originated the design, over 5,000 years ago, while the mortar and pestle appeared in Europe a mere 500 or so years ago.
- If using your mortar and pestle as a pill crusher, we recommend porcelain (or glass, brass, or stainless steel) when used for more than one type of pill, because of their ease of cleaning without leaving residues. Wood is the least desirable material for pill crushing, because it is highly absorbent.