Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Feb 2, 2014 09:32 AM

need mortar and pestle education

i've got a couple of mortar and pestles. i just tried to use the wooden one (pretty sure it's olive wood) and realized it might just be for show - pretty shallow, very wide, and seemed difficult to grind cardamom seeds to powder without them flying around. I'm just wondering - i know there are many different materials for mortar and pestles - are some better for other things than others? i have a marble one and i used it for garlic paste once... now it is forever garlic-tinged. i would like to be able to have a good small pestle to grind dry spices. I also notice a difference in the design of the pestle heads - perhaps that makes a difference as well? (maybe the ones i have need to be replaced)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Granite is a denser stone and won't take up odors and oils like Marble will. With its frosted finish, things don't fly around like the polished surfaces do. The lab grade ceramic models are also an option except the ones I see are slick smooth surfaces.

    For me, Granite mortars and pestles from Thailand are an easy choice.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sid Post

      +1 on the Thai granite M&P suggestion. I think I paid $30 for mine, and it's both very large and very powerful -- easily turns hard spices into very fine powder.

      The only tricky part is cleaning it. It is quite heavy and once while cleaning it slipped out of my hands and put a huge dent in my stainless sink. Now I make sure any soap is totally rinsed off before I lift it back out of the sink.

      I also own a smaller marble one, which I thought I'd use for small amounts of spices, but I don't bother with it anymore. It's so inefficient as compared with the Thai M&P that there is no point -- I can grind, clean, and dry the big one in the time it takes to do a rather shoddy job with the small one.

      1. re: Sid Post

        Another vote for granite! I've had mine for 30 years and still use it instead of a blender or food processor for small jobs. I've pounded everything imaginable in it - garlic, chili, meat, and nuts. Because it's so dense it cleans easily and doesn't retain odors. Whenever I pound something strong like garlic or chili I wipe it, rub with some kosher salt, wash and it's ready for the next job. Yes, it's heavy; but that shouldn't deter anyone. You can find them in any Southeast Asian market. I agree with the poster who said to get one with a 6" or larger opening. As a last point, they look cool on the countertop.

        1. re: wolfde

          so i read through all the answers, and looked online... thought i'd have to go on a trek to the city for a mortar and pestle... then i had to go to my local asian store and, sure enough, there were 3 sizes of thai granite stones! very happy!! THANKS EVERYONE!

      2. I have a lab grade glass one. It works alright. It is very smooth as Sid Post noted. That makes for easy cleaning and difficult grinding sometimes. I would like to get a rougher one, too. Mine is not very big: I grind larger amounts in an electric grinder.

        1. The Japanese version, called suribachi ( is far better for grinding spices. The bowl is ridged, and allows for much more effective work on any spices/grains. I link to one example from WS, but there are many others, and they're not expensive.

          1 Reply
          1. re: strangemd

            I have one of these. Good for grinding spices. Not so good for wetter ingredients or larger quantities (it was a horrible failure when it came to Thai curry paste).

          2. Lao versions are made of clay, with a wooden pestle. They are taller and hold a higher volume, as we tend to use them for everything from making sauces to green papaya salad. My gram taught me that the trick to keeping garlic, peppers, and other spices from flying around is to always pound them with a little salt.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sarinaL

              The salt trick is good advice. Coarse salt is also helpful when mincing garlic on the countertop.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                I've never needed salt to help me mince garlic, but pasting it on the countertop (board) is benefited by the addition of salt.

                1. re: JayL

                  Yeah, I meant that I generally combine the actions of mincing and mashing.

            2. a scrub and 2-3 minute soak with vinegar will take care of the garlic smell (and just about any other odor). Careful not to leave it soaking for long though.
              It takes a long time to do, but the original all-i-oli (garlic and oil, literally) was/is traditionally made in a wooden mortar and pestle. Just crush the garlic with a little salt and slowly add oil, as for mayonnaise. It will all emulsify after about 30-45 minutes of pounding.