Go-Go Gadget: Mortar and Pestle

| Diet & Nutrition

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Introduce your modern methods of cooking by bringing this piece of Stone Age technology into your kitchen.

A mortar is a bowl that holds ingredients and substances that are intended to be crushed and ground by a pestle, a club-shaped object. Mortar and pestles vary in size and material, but the most common are made of hard wood, ceramic or stone. Since ancient times, this tool has been used to crush and mix medicine into a fine paste or powder, muddle large spices, and pulverize grains into a fine dust for cooking. Mortar and pestles are embraced in cultures all over the world — from a rough Mexican molcajete to a Thai kruk.

Photo Credit: WikiHow
(Photo: WikiHow)

If a recipe calls for an ingredient that needs to be ground into a paste or powder, a mortar and pestle is the ideal tool to use. Common materials that are handled by this tool include peppercorns, herb seeds, fresh herb and spice leaves, rice, nuts, plant seeds, hard candies and sea salt.

>> Read more: 6 DIY Spices You Need to Try Tonight 

Mortar and pestles are also used in pharmaceutical practices as a tool to help crush and grind medication. Having one around the house will come in handy if your child is ever prescribed medication and does not feel comfortable with swallowing large pills. Crush them to edible chunks and sprinkle in yogurt or other foods.

When choosing your mortar and pestle, there are several important things to keep in mind:

Material: Most cooks look for a mortar and pestle that is very hefty, hard and has minimal amounts of porous grooves. Regardless of what material you decide to buy, remember to always clean your mortar and pestle after using it. Each has its own cleaning method, so make sure you research how to properly clean it after purchasing it.

  • Ceramic: Although these are more fragile than other types of mortar and pestles, they're great for grinding spices very finely.
  • Wood: These are durable but are also naturally porous and subject to stains. It is likely for the flavor of whatever you are handling in the mortar and pestle will stay in between uses, therefore tainting the flavor of the next spice/material you blend.
  • Stone: These grind things very finely but require proper conditioning in order to avoid pieces of stone to shed in mix.

Size and shape: The best mortars have a deeply rounded shape so that the ingredients stay inside the bowl while grinding. Additionally, having a stable base is important to keep the device in place. An ideal pestle is broad and gently rounded, not narrow and rounded. In regards of size, go big or go home: Small mortars do not serve a logical purpose for cooking large meals since they are limited to only producing very small batches of whatever you are grinding.

Directions: Place the raw material into the mortar, but make sure not to fill it up more than a third of the way full, otherwise, getting the material to properly grind will be difficult. If you want to produce a large batch of something ground, crush the items in separate batches and combine in the end. Hold the mortar in place with one hand and the pestle in the other; twist it against the material/ingredients so that they are ground against the bottom and the sides; Use the pestle to grind, bash, crush and muddle all of the ingredients until they are all reduced to the same consistency; The degree of coarseness depends on the recipe. Click here for more info!

Methods: Grinding is the most preferred technique for most spices used in baked goods and sauces. Pounding is commonly used for large spices and seeds. Bashing (gentle pounding) is used when the ingredients are large and resist to grinding — this method will allow you to crack the spices first, then switch to other methods in order to bring them to a finer ground. Crushing is used in order to keep the spices intact. If a recipe calls for a “crushed” material, it means that it should not be completely pulverized.

>> Read more: 8 Spices for Weight Loss

Feeling a little exotic and want to add some unexpected yet totally delicious twist to your dinner? Crush a medley of peppercorns (or just black peppercorn if you want to follow the recipe as listed), to sprinkle on top of your fish. Try it out on our Tilapia Piccata recipe.

tilapia piccata

Use your mortar and pestle to crush garlic cloves for our Skinny Florentine Flatbread recipe!

Florentine Flatbread Recipe

Maybe you want something sweet. Pound chunks of dark chocolate or graham cracker to flake on top of your desserts for added deliciousness. We have a S'more Fluff recipe that is ready to be baked and devoured with a sweet additional ingredient. Click here to see the recipe!

smores fluff

>> Read more: 7 Staples All Kitchens Need