Mortar and Pestle

I have a mortar and pestle which just doesn't seem to work well. It is a really heavy stone bowl but I think the surface is maybe too smooth. Any time I try to use it to grind things to a paste it just sort of stirs them around. The only thing I can seem to use it for is grinding sesame seeds and sugar together. Any recommendations?



ChefOno June 5, 2012

Be aware there's a reason for the wooden pestle, to reduce grinding the ribs down along with the spices.

BoulderGalinTokyo June 6, 2012
Chef Ono, thank you for the info--doing fine, about 6 years old.
BoulderGalinTokyo June 5, 2012
Sorry, I was hoping the picture would show you the groves and crevices.
BoulderGalinTokyo June 5, 2012
I have a Japanese suribachi, as mainecook61 suggested, and I really like it. It grabs the spices and holds them so the pestle crushes easily. Low sodium diet, so i couldn't use salt in reg. mortar. I don't like the wooden pestle so much, absorbs some oils. The suribachi can be washed with a vegetable brush and soapy water, but the crevices are gaining a little 'seasoning' like on a cast -iron skillet.

Amazon is convenient

but I think you can find it cheaper. Asian supermarkets might think it an import item, so maybe not so cheap. Try $1.00 stores, on something similar, with products from China. Try it with your porcelain pestle and if you like it you could buy a better quality one.

And to think I was drooling over the really beautiful ones...
Hilarybee June 4, 2012
I have a large and small molcajete. I actually bought a porcelain M&P set, which I hate, but I use the porcelain coated wood pestle with the molcajete bowls. I've found it very effective. I also find that mash at an angle helps too- instead of straight down, start mashing diagonally, with course sea salt.

I'm interested in the Japanese ribbed variety, Mainecook! I might give that a try.
mainecook61 June 4, 2012
Try a Japanese suribachi. It's a ceramic bowl with ribbed insides and a wooden pestle. Light, not too big, very efficient because of the rough interior. Easy to find on Amazon.
Maedl June 4, 2012
I have a heavy granite mortar and pestle and am very pleased with its functionality. I use it for spices and seeds, which are ground quickly and easily. I haven't noticed any problems with oil residues adding unwanted flavors. A friend gave it to me, but I think she found it at TJ Maxx or a similar store.
savorthis June 4, 2012
The truth is I usually do use a cuisenart/coffee grinder/blender but so many people still recommend the m&p that I figured I'd give it a try more often. My pestle is wooden and fits well- it just is not a very satisfying result!
ChefOno June 4, 2012

Porcelain can be made with different textures, strengths and hardness. Like with most things, you'll find quality differences between manufacturers. With your experience, at least you know what to look for, neither too fine nor too coarse.

Two other thoughts occurred to me over a cup of coffee: Does the curvature of your pestle match that of the mortar?

And if you're not doing so already, instead of chasing what you're trying to grind around the bowl, try twisting the pestle with your wrist as you bear down.

As for the ultimate solution? For larger quantities, I use an electric spice grinder with a removable, dishwasher safe, stainless bowl. I keep a small mortar and pestle around for small stuff -- a few allspice berries or cloves or whatever -- which won't grind properly in the electric appliance.
ReneePussman June 4, 2012
The mortar and pestle is practically an antiquated tool. There are many better ways to do the things you normally would with an M&P. Personally I don't own one and have gotten by just fine.
savorthis June 4, 2012
I used to have a porcelain one that seemed even worse. It was so smooth nothing would really grind well unless there was something gritty involved- which is not always the case. I like the idea of the molcajete but do think it's a worry to clean all the nooks and crannies. Maybe the solution is to have many of them.....
ChefOno June 4, 2012

I've seen hundreds if not thousands of mortar and pestle sets. Most of them seem to be the product of designers more intent on making something pretty than producing a functional tool.

The chemist in me insists on porcelain which doesn't absorb oils and odors, doesn't stain and shows at a glance when it's dirty. Plus it's a particularly hard, durable and inert material. My inner engineer would consider stainless but I haven't run across anything but poorly made versions.

I believe the problem you're describing is due to the natural texture of the stone. Witness the Mexican molcajete which certainly solves that particular issue but is pretty much the opposite of porcelain in every respect.
HalfPint June 4, 2012
make you can rough up the insides a bit with some sandpaper? or add a little bit of coarse salt when trying to grind things to a paste. You don't need a lot, just enough for some traction.
HalfPint June 4, 2012
sorry that you be "Maybe you can...".
HalfPint June 4, 2012
OMG, I don't know what's wrong with me this morning!
ChefOno June 4, 2012

Whatever it is, I've got it worse. I didn't notice either of those typos until you pointed them out. Time for a cup of coffee…

Recommended by Food52