Mortars & Pestles
For pounding, crushing, grinding and mixing substances, the mortar and pestle has been around since ancient times. We test some out in a spice grind-off to see which does the best job.
The pestle is the thick, heavy stick used to do the pounding and grinding in the bowl, which is the mortar.
You can buy electric grinders, but experts believe the best results come from using a traditional mortar and pestle.
Most mortar and pestles are made from natural materials such as ceramic, porcelain, glass, wood, stone, marble, brass, bamboo, iron and steel. Marble, ceramic, and granite are the most non-porous, least likely to stain, and easiest to keep clean.
The heavier the material, the better job it will do grinding the contents.
The inside of the mortar bowl should be non-porous so it won’t absorb any of the substance you’re grinding. (This means wood isn’t the best material for a mortar and pestle.) It should also be rough to provide traction and grab for the grinding process.
To get the perfect grind, first pound the spices to break up the outer shell of the seeds. Then use a grinding motion until you reach the desired consistency. Experts recommend not to grind the spices too fine, otherwise you’ll lose out on flavour.
To grind some authentic, freshly ground garam masala spices for some Indian dishes we were making, we invited some frequent spice preparers to help us test these mortars and pestles:
- Granite (generic): $22.99
- Marble (generic): $11.98
- Brass (generic): $9.99
- Krupps (electric coffee/spice grinder): $29.99
We didn’t expect to see a big difference in performance, but the differences were vast.
No one was a fan of the electric, which ground the spices too fine.
The granite was the hands-down choice with all of our experts. The pestle felt heavy enough to break up and grind the spices, and the mortar had a good texture to provide grinding friction.
OUR TOP PICK
In our tests, the granite mortar and pestle did the best job. Make sure you try them out in the store to test the feel and balance of the pestle, and the inside texture of the mortar bowl.