Mortar and Pestle
© Denzil Green
A Mortar and Pestle is a heavy bowl that comes with a short, blunt, thick stick that looks like a miniature baseball bat. It is made of heavy material that can stand up to pounding.
It is a multipurpose tool used for grinding, crush and puréeing, and for making pastes and powders. It can be made of cast iron, frosted glass, granite, hard wood, stone, marble, pottery, porcelain, ceramic or rock.
Wooden ones are better for dry ingredients, because over time putting moist ingredients in them may cause them to deteriorate.
Earthenware ones have the advantage that they can be made with grooved inner surfaces, which augment the grinding being done.
Some stainless steel ones come with mesh inserts of varying fineness; as you grind, only particles that fit the fineness of the mesh pass through it.
A Mortar and Pestle has to have an abrasive surface, either on the surface of the bowl, or the tip of the pestle.
The pounding is done in a bowl, rather than just on a flat surface, as a flat surface would allow things to fall off as you were pounding them. A bowl also keeps things continually falling back to the centre where you are concentrating the force of the pounding.
You put the items being ground in the bowl, and press down on them with the tip of the pestle and while pressing down, move them in a circle. The abrasive surface plus the pressure is what does the trick.
Don’t purchase a Mortar and Pestle based on looks alone, unless you plan only to display it as a decorative item. Make sure the pestle feels comfortable in your hand, and that it feels like it is going to come right up against the surface of the mortar as you use it. Deeper mortars are better because the ingredients won’t get pushed out, though if you’re just ever going to crush minute quantities of spices, a small one is fine. If you’re going to use it for large amounts of ingredients, hold out for a larger one.
Not all are dishwasher safe.
Mortar and Pestles were and are used throughout the world. They even sprang up in the New World before any contact with the old world. They are the lone survivor of tools and methods going back to the Palaeolithic era that used to be used on a much broader scale for things even such as making bread flour. Fans say that items processed in one taste way better than anything ground with more modern means. Mind you, you never see them offering to going back to making their flour that way. It is really only used for small quantities of items — not even the most wild-eyed Mortar and Pestle enthusiast is going to offer to grind up a week’s supply of bread flour for their entire street.
Some variations rely on “impact grinding.” These variations include mochi pounders in Japan, the sumps used by North American settlers, and the rice pounders used in the Philippines. In Japan, the large Japanese pestles are hammered shaped; you fling them over your shoulder to bash rice in the large mortar.
You can also buy reproduction Roman ones. They are above as large as medium-sized mixing bowls, either with sloping sides with the top wider than the bottom or almost completely flat with straight sides. Both kinds have a lip on them for pouring out the ingredients when finished.