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Feb 21, 2009 08:53 AM

Mortar and Pestle: Wood, ceramic, or cast iron?

What's best?

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  1. Don't know what's best but mine is large, marble, and with a wooden handled pestle. It's worked well for many years grinding spices, herbs, and beans.

    1. I use a granite one (both mortar & pestle) from Thailand. Works for me and was not expensive.

      1. Ah yes, marble and granite as well. I guess I should ask what's worst too? I'm mainly worried about the potential for cracking or shards coming off. I don't know if this happens with any of the materials, but I figure after some wear & tear it's possible.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Googs

          I have my mother's 30+ year old marble set--no chips or cracks. Just make sure it does NOT have a polished interiour. The pestle is rougher on the bottom end, finer on the top end (although I rarely use the top part). Neither are highly polished, even on the outside--too shiny and your fingers will slip. The base is rough also, and when not using on a wooden counter top, it's best to have a dishcloth underneath to prevent scratching of the surface.

          Washing up is easy--rinse in the sink with a mild soap, and allow to air dry. I haven't had a problem with transference of flavours.

        2. What's Best? I'd say it's a matter of personal preference. I've used wooden models and don't like them. IMO, they're too porous and the flavors they hold on to tend to transfer from one herb/spice to another. I don't want the flavor of crushed red pepper blended with my cinnamon.
          I've used both marble and granite. Marble, in my experience, is too close to wood in its porosity. Of the three materials discussed thus far, I prefer granite and that's what I'm currently using. That said, as soon as I can afford it, I'm giving my granite mortar and pestle to a good cause and moving to a cast iron model.

          8 Replies
          1. re: todao

            Now you're a man who knows his M's & P's. May I ask why you prefer cast iron to granite?

            1. re: todao

              We have granite, too, and it's held up for years. No chipping or other problems.

              I don't see the point of wood- too soft and porous. Ceramic is (or was) traditional in pharmacies, so I would think that would speak to it's cleanability.

              1. re: sfumato

                Ugh, take out my apostrophe in "it's"! WTF was I thinking?


                1. re: sfumato

                  It has, abbreviated to it's, *should* have an apostrophe. What were you thinking? :-)

                2. re: sfumato

                  you are right to remove the apostrophe. "it's" is only a contraction of "it is" or "it has."

                  >>>> from
                  A simple test

                  If you can replace it[']s in your sentence with it is or it has, then your word is it's; otherwise, your word is its.

                  Another test

                  Its is the neuter version of his and her. Try plugging her into your sentence where you think its belongs. If the sentence still works grammatically (if not logically) then your word is indeed its.<<<<<<

                  1. re: alkapal

                    I definitely know how to use it (love diagramming sentences and linguistics and all that nonsense)... I think it was just an instance of fingers moving faster than my brain! Which is odd, because that usually results in the normal mistypes (letter transposed, etc), rather than actual grammatical errors.

                    1. re: sfumato

                      my link was to clarify and serve as a reminder for all of us hounds, not directed at you. after all, you cared enough to correct your post.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Hah! Thanks. No worries. I reread that and was so irritated with myself (I'm one of those sticklers for to vs. too, its vs. it's, etc. Perhaps it was a wine-heavy night when I posted that! ;)

              2. I've had a terracotta mortar with a wooden pestle from Henry Watson Pottery for years. I use it often and I've never had a problem with it. The wooden pestle is very dense, as is the terracotta, so neither hold odor.