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Even in the age of electric grinders and kitchen gadgets galore, for many chefs, the humble mortar and pestle is still the tool of choice when it comes to making pastes and blending spices. Grinding your ingredients fresh ensures the best possible flavor and aroma, and doing so manually gives you ultimate control over consistency and coarseness. For vegans, cooking with a pestle and mortar can enhance the taste of our plant-based meals, so we had to write a buyer’s guide!

These are ancient tools. As such, they’re simple to use, but they still have a variety of functions. Many common foods are vastly improved when prepared with a mortar and pestle, but they do require a little more effort than a electric appliance. However, these tools can add a cool, rustic touch to your kitchen counter tops…something that electric grinders will never do!

Ready to find the best mortar and pestle? Check out our guide to learn what to look for while shopping, then read our reviews to find the right one for you.

What is a mortar and pestle?

First, let’s start with a brief description of the item itself. A mortar and pestle, or grinding bowl, is an ancient cooking tool that has been adapted and used around the world for centuries. The mortar is a heavy bowl with a rough interior, while the pestle is a hand-held wand used for smashing and grinding ingredients against the inside of the mortar.

You might be wondering what the point of a mortar and pestle is when we have food processors and ultra-sharp Japanese steel knives. Well, because the flavor of plants is stored in rigid structures, smashing is often more effective at releasing flavor than chopping. Spices, pastes, and condiments prepared in a mortar and pestle just taste better. Period.

Mortars and pestles come in a variety of sizes for different purposes. If you’re just starting out, a 4-6 inch diameter set is versatile enough to grind small quantities of spices or make whole dishes. If that’s not enough, you can always add to your collection later!

How to use a pestle and mortar

How hard can it be? Surely these two-piece bits of kit must be straightforward, right? Well, yes…and no. As with everything, there’s a right and a wrong way to use these old-school tools, and to get the most from yours you’ll obviously want to be doing things right!

Instead of me writing about it, though, take a look at the video below from top food blogger, Claire Thomas.

What can you make with your mortar and pestle set?

What do guacamole, pesto, and hummus all have in common? They’re all traditionally made with a mortar and pestle!

Here are some other suggestions for what you can make with a mortar and pestle:

  • Curry paste (staple base ingredient of Indian and South-East Asian dishes)
  • Spice blends like garam masala and baharat
  • Chimichurri (Argentinian blend of herbs and spices)
  • Gremolata (Italian condiment made from parsley, garlic, and lemon zest)
  • Flavored salt (much cheaper than buying it at the gourmet grocery store!)

As we mentioned in the last section, even though you can make some of these foods in a blender or food processor, smashing the ingredients in a mortar and pestle actually brings out a brighter flavor—particularly in the case of garlic and herbs like basil and parsley.

If you’ve been buying these ingredients in jars or tubes from the grocery store, prepare to be amazed at the difference. The small amount of extra work it takes to combine the ingredients yourself gives a huge payoff in terms of flavor!

What should you look for when shopping for a mortar and pestle?

large mortar and pestle

The biggest decision you have to make regarding your mortar and pestle is the material you want: stone, wood, or glass. Each material has different properties, so the best mortar and pestle for you will depend on what you need it for.

Traditional mortar and pestles were made out of stone. The natural, rough texture of stones like granite or marble provided the perfect surface for crushing and blending delicate spices. On the downside, small bits of the stone may break off into your food, especially if the set is old or wasn’t seasoned properly.

Wood provides a softer material for making mortar and pestles. Though the exterior of a wooden mortar and pestle set may be polished smooth, the inside should be left rough for better ingredient grinding. Wood may scratch or require gentle maintenance, but you won’t have to worry about mixing bits of granite into your guac.

Finally, a glass pestle and mortar is best when you want to ensure a totally clean receptacle every time. Stone and wood have natural divots that may collect bacteria if not carefully cleaned. Glass is easier to sanitize, but that smooth surface also doesn’t have as much grinding potential.

Personally, providing you take care of it and prepare it properly before its first use, I prefer a granite set to the others. Using granite just feels right, and you really do get greater control when making a variety of pastes and powders with them.

So, what pestle and mortar set should you add to your kitchen? Read our reviews of some of the top choices to get started.

HiCoup Kitchenware Granite Mortar and Pestle Set

The HiCoup Kitchenware Granite Mortar and Pestle is a favorite of many home cooks for crushing spices and making dressings or guacamole. While the mortar is made from hand carved, unpolished granite, the pestle and lip of the mortar are smooth so you won’t scrape your hands while grinding.

This is a fairly large mortar and pestle: six inches in diameter. The sloped design keeps ingredients from creeping up the side of the mortar where they’re harder to grind. Customers report that the interior of the HiCoup is a great texture for fine grinding.

All granite mortar and pestles are nonporous and don’t absorb any odors. By picking granite, you won’t have to worry about your mortar and pestle transferring any flavor to your food. In addition, HiCoup went a step further by making their mortar and pestle set dishwasher safe and easy to sanitize.

On the downside, some customers found that the seasoning process (grinding dry rice down to a powder before use) was a little tedious, but let’s face it, it’s never going to be THAT exciting, regardless of which set you use! The problem seems to be that this set requires a little more care during the seasoning process, but once done the vast majority of users love it.

For people with larger hands, the relatively narrow pestle may be a little uncomfortable if you’re using for prolonged periods. Finally, while this mortar and pestle is ideal for making condiments like guacamole or chimichurri, it’s not as good as some of the other sets when it comes to grinding spices down to very fine levels.

Overall, the HiCoup is a decent product that looks great and performs most tasks well.

WHAT WE LIKE:

✅ Cool design

✅ Smoothed, polished edges make handling easy

✅ Dishwasher safe

✅ Great for sauces and condiments

WHAT WE DISLIKE:

❌ Seasoning and removing stone dust can be a chore

❌ Pestle is too narrow for some people’s hands

❌ Not the best at grinding spices ultra fine

Ironwood Gourmet 28341 Mortar and Pestle, Acacia Wood

Ironwood Gourmet 28341 Mortar and Pestle is made from beautiful acacia and the natural light and dark patterns of this wood make each piece unique and perfect to display. At four inches in diameter, this set is versatile enough for many tasks.

The Ironwood Gourmet has a wide base and is easy to hold. The relatively shallow bowl makes it simple to crush small seeds and spices and the pestle and mortar fit together nicely for easier, faster grinding.

Like other mortar and pestles made of wood, the Ironwood Gourmet Acacia Wood Mortar and Pestle will take a little extra care. After each use, you should wash it with warm water and dry immediately. Then, rubbing the wood with a few drops of oil will help keep the mortar and pestle in good condition.

Some people won’t mind the extra work required to keep their mortar and pestle looking great, but others will find the process too labor-intensive. In addition, some customers won’t like the fact that this set is made of several joined pieces instead of being carved from one block of wood. Over time, there is a concern that the pieces may split or separate.

That being said, this is a beautiful product that will take pride of place in many kitchens and perform tasks well when called upon.

WHAT WE LIKE:

✅ Versatile size

✅ Attractive, natural design

✅ Great for grinding seeds and spices

WHAT WE DISLIKE:

❌ May be too shallow for some uses

❌ Requires careful cleaning

❌ Higher maintenance than other sets

❌ Questionable durability

COLE & MASON Granite Mortar and Pestle

The COLE & MASON Granite Mortar and Pestle has half-inch thick black granite sides carved like undulating waves. The base is also extra-thick for stability, yet the mortar still has a generous two cup capacity. The interior features a rough finish for quick grinding.

Customers report that they are consistently amazed at how easy it is to crush herbs, grind spices, and blend tasty treats in the COLE & MASON set. Clean-up is also a breeze: simply rinse and air dry.

The large capacity of the bowl means you can make salsa, dressing, and guac without any mess. However, adventurous cooks also say it’s also perfect for grinding small amounts of spices. Overall, this sleek pestle and mortar set works for just about everyone.

Be warned, though, this set is very heavy. This means it won’t move around while you’re grinding, but once you find a place for it on your countertop, it may be in your best interest to leave it there.

In terms of other drawbacks, be careful with the pestle. Despite being made of granite, it can be fragile and may roll off kitchen counters and break on the floor. The recommended seasoning process is also a multi-step venture; make sure you have some time to spare before you need to use your COLE & MASON Granite Mortar and Pestle to make your first meal!

WHAT WE LIKE:

✅ Large capacity

✅ Capable of handling many tasks

✅ Simple to clean

✅ Looks great

✅ Stays stable when in use

WHAT WE DISLIKE:

❌ Fragile pestle

❌ May be too heavy for some

Variety Glass Inc. Footed Glass Mortar & Pestle Set

Variety Glass Inc. Footed Glass Mortar & Pestle Set is a clean, modern alternative to traditional-style stone and wood tools. Variety Glass Inc. makes all their mortar and pestles in the USA from handblown glass. This small set is good to use either in a kitchen or laboratory—just not both!

The Variety Glass Inc. bowl can hold up to eight ounces. This petite size is perfect for grinding small quantities of spices at a time. You can easily tailor how much you grind to your recipes and nothing goes to waste!

The simple, attractive design of this set will appeal to plenty of people and it’ll sit perfectly in most kitchens. The pouring spout also makes it easier to use for liquid mixing.

On the other hand, this mortar and pestle will be more limited in its applications than similar tools. The smooth glass sides are suitable for crushing soft foods, but nothing too hard that could damage the glass. This set is also delicate and may not withstand any heavy pounding. Looks pretty, though.

WHAT WE LIKE:

✅ Good for crushing small quantities of spices

✅ Made from handblown glass

✅ Easy to sanitize

WHAT WE DISLIKE:

❌ Too delicate for many uses

❌ Small 8 ounce capacity

RSVP Grey Marble Mortar and Pestle

The RSVP Grey Marble Mortar and Pestle is a gorgeous kitchen tool with the capacity for both large and small tasks. Though its inner diameter is just three and a half inches, the mortar is two inches deep, so you can fit a surprising amount in. The base of the mortar also has a foam rubber pad to protect your countertops and help stop the bowl sliding around when in use.

The exterior of the RSVP Grey Marble Mortar and Pestle is matte finish marble. The interior is unpolished and rough for better grinding. For cleaning, the manufacturer recommends a quick rinse with water or wiping the mortar and pestle with a damp cloth.

We like the effective, rough interior of this mortar and pestle set and it’s great that the pestle is long enough to keep your hands out of the mortar. However, it does become a little uncomfortable after extended use. The depth of the mortar also means that fewer spices will escape during grinding, though you might still want to cover the opening with your hands when cracking peppercorns.

Despite its heft, this RSVP is fragile, and there are several reports of it breaking during shipping or with light use. Some customers also complained that the protective foam base made cleaning difficult. However, most are completely satisfied with their decision to add the RSVP Grey Marble Mortar and Pestle to their culinary arsenal.

WHAT WE LIKE:

✅ Works for making a variety of foods

✅ Foam base helps with slippage

✅ Nice long pestle

✅ Easy to use and clean

✅ Attractive enough to display

WHAT WE DISLIKE:

❌ Quite fragile

❌ Poor packaging has resulted in broken sets being delivered

❌ Not as “comfortable” to use as other sets

So which is the best mortar and pestle?

If you’re ready to change the way you cook forever, consider picking up a COLE & MASON Granite Mortar and Pestle. The natural stone interior makes quick work out of everything from mixing up fresh salsa to making curry paste.

Owners love the look, function, and easy clean-up of this stone mortar and pestle. The capacity is among the highest on this list, yet the set isn’t excessively bulky. Park it by the stove and you may find yourself using it daily!

The COLE & MASON black granite mortar and pestle set is stylish, classic, and will look great on any kitchen counter. This is pretty much required as it’s too heavy to move in and out of a cabinet! On the other hand, the thick sides keep the mortar in place while it’s in use.

However, this set is not without small faults. The seasoning process is quite involved (but, it’s worth the effort), and be careful not to set the pestle down on the counter; it may roll off and break. Yet, with a little love and care, this mortar and pestle has the potential to last for years to come.

With a pestle and mortar in your kitchen, your plant-based meals will taste more vibrant, which will encourage you to cook more often and you’ll enjoy the results of your labor more than ever before. Some chefs—amateur and professional alike—claim that using a mortar and pestle for certain dishes revolutionized their cooking.

Who knows: finding the best mortar and pestle for your kitchen could have the same effect for you!

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