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Mortar and Pestle Technique

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Hello Chowhounders,

I've been grinding spices in my little mortar and pestle, and with every grinding motion I feel as though my wrist is popping out of its socket or something. I don't imagine that that's what I should be feeling. What's the proper method for grinding stuff in the mortar and pestle?

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  1. I had the same problem, and always felt like it took a lot of effort to grind. Then I got a nice big mortar and pestle. If it's big, you can let the weight of the pestle do most of the work for you, and you can get a good grip on it, grinding with your arm instead of your wrist.

    I still haven't figured out how to make the small one a pleasure to use. I am thinking maybe it is mainly meant to sit on the kitchen windowsill and look cool.

    2 Replies
    1. re: noahbirnel

      Avoid pushing with your wrist as much as you can. Push with your elbow and shoulder instead. (I learned this scooping incredibly dense ice cream for two summers. Definitely go easy on the wrist)

      1. re: noahbirnel

        Yes, I wish I could have one of those big mortar and pestles. But I'm just a teenaged parasite in a kitchen full of big appliances that my parents don't use, so there's no room for something as wonderful as a good-sized mortar and pestle. There's barely room for the baby version I have now.

        Lemon Curry: I'll definitely try to mitigate my situation by using my elbow and shoulder. Thank you for your help!

      2. My wooden mortar and pestle for spices is from Cajamarca, Peru. They have an important characteristic--the mortar head is quite large--and rounded--compared to the mortar bowl. Grinding is a relaxed matter of applying some pressure and rotating the handle of the pestle in circular fashion. I can't grind anything when using friends' m&ps with thin, stick-like pestles.

        1. I have a smallish (4 inches across the interior) mortar and pestle that I use rather frequently. I usually start whole spices by giving them a few hard blows with the pestle to break them up, then I start with the circular grinding motion. I don't use much downward pressure; I let the abrasive qualities of the stone and the spices work against each other. For really hard spices this might take a while, but it really doesn't take much power, just time. Maybe you're just pushing down too hard.

          Hope that helps.

          1. I find that grinding spices with a little kosher salt (or sugar if you can't use salt) helps to get the grinding started. I prefer a very small marble mortar and pestle.

            1. Also it's a matter of how you hold the pestle. Do you hold it with your thumb & index finger toward the fat end, or your pinkie? Go with the pinkie.

              When grinding, don't necessarily just press down, use a circular scraping motion against the sides of the bowl. Your wrist would be almost motionless, try to move with your elbow and shoulder.