In this current day and age, items of convenience are around us everywhere we turn, especially in the kitchen. From hand mixers to egg poachers, there is usually a fancy tool or innovation for any kitchen task you can think of.
However, sometimes things from simpler times make a comeback and can be celebrated for their simplicity and usefulness.
A traditional way to grind spices.
Thinking about running to the nearest kitchen supply store to pick up the latest and greatest newfangled spice grinder? Why not give hand pressing spices in a mortar and pestle a try instead?
Using a mortar and pestle to grind spices helps each individual spice release its flavorful oils and fragrances. Grinding the spices by hand allows you to really get the perfect amount of each spice if you’re concocting your own spice blend.
What exactly is a mortar and pestle?
A mortar and pestle is as simple as it sounds! The mortar is a solid bowl, usually made out of wood, stone or ceramic. A pestle is an accompanying tool used to grind spices into smaller grounds. These tools were used before the advent of kitchen supply stores and were often used for grinding medicinal herbs as well as herbs for cooking.
Although a mortar and pestle can be used for making a wonderfully hand-mashed guacamole or pesto, it is primarily used to grind larger freshly picked or dried spices into a smaller and more usable form.
A mortar and pestle brings a little bit of the old world back into your kitchen when you choose to use it over newer technology, like a food processor or other spice grinder.
Why should I have a mortar and pestle to grind my own spices?
If you can spare the small amount of cabinet space that a mortar and pestle will take up, I highly suggest you make the switch and start grinding your own spices. Grinding your own fresh or dried spices is likely to be less expensive than buying ground spices at the grocery store. Likewise, growing your own herbs and drying them out will be equally cost effective.
A huge benefit you can count on if you choose to use a mortar and pestle for your spice grinding is that you know exactly what is going into your spices or spice blends. Some spice blends sold in stores have added salts or other unknown spices added to prevent clumping.
Although nobody likes a clumpy container of spices, this can be avoided by keeping your own dried spices on hand and grinding them as needed. You get freshly ground spices with the added bonus of knowing exactly what’s going into your spices and food.
For those of us watching our sodium intake or who must avoid certain spices altogether, making your own blends avoids the uncertainty of using prepackaged spices from the store. Plus, it’s just fun!
If those bulk batches of spices cluttering up your kitchen, you might want to read my how-to on keeping your pantry organized.
What type of mortar and pestle should I be adding to my kitchen arsenal?
First-time users can certainly be overwhelmed with the different options when trying to decide on a suitable set for their kitchen. Some models are made from wood or stone, whereas others are crafted from sleek materials like marble or ceramic. There are even cast iron and stainless steel sets!
Wooden or stone sets
Although wooden or stone sets may seem more earthen and natural, these materials can actually be too porous for spices. The idea is that the rough interior helps with the grinding. The problem is that residue can eventually become lodged in the pestle. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re planning on only grinding one spice.
The material largely depends on how you want to use it. If you intend on grinding a multitude of spices, however, choose a mortar and pestle that is resistant to staining and leaching of flavors.
Ceramic or stone sets
For a mortar and pestle set that will effectively grind spices down to a fine pressed powder, without absorbing all of the flavors and oils into the pestle, opt for a ceramic or stone set. Especially one that has a smooth finish coating.
This type of mortar and pestle is effective at grinding spices to your desired coarseness without the issue of leftover flavors. No one wants to grind down rosemary for a dish and taste turmeric in the finished product!
There are glass mortar and pestle sets are available for purchase. Unfortunately, many find this material far too fragile for the intended use. I can’t recommend smashing two pieces of glass into one another. They do make fine decorative pieces, though!
Mix it up!
Be sure to consider your personal needs before selecting a mortar and pestle for your own use at home. Choose one based on material, and also on size. To summarize:
- If you know you won’t be grinding a large amount of spices at once, a smaller model is great!
- Alternatively, if you grow your own spices and grind a large batch at once, you probably require a larger model.
- Choose a material that is appropriate for the types of materials you’ll be grinding.
Most importantly, have fun, and forget everything mom said about not playing with your food! The best dishes are those cooked with love, and a little elbow grease.
If you love traditional-style kitchen tools, check out this post on the best rolling pin for cookie dough. You might also like this article about why you should be using a food mill!
And, for those of you interested in canning, learn all about the best pressure canner for canning meats!
Cast iron pans are one of my favorite traditional pieces of kitchen kit! Read all about the history of Wagner cast iron here!