Buying a Mortar and Pestle – What is it? and Things to Consider

Buying a Mortar and Pestle

buying a mortar and pestle

The beautiful hand-carved mortar and pestle is approximately 100 years old. It is made of a heavy bronze alloy and weighs 5.9 pounds. (2.7 kg).

Are you thinking about buying a mortar and pestle? If so, there are some things you should know before making your final buying decision.

A mortar and pestle, also called an “Apothecary Grinder”, is a tool used to grind and break down herbs. The mortar is bowl-shaped to hold the herbs, and the pestle is a heavy cylinder-shaped object used for grinding and/or pounding. The herbs are broken down by rubbing and pounding them against the walls of the mortar using the pestle.

A mortar and pestle can used to crush, grind or mix herbs helping them to release their aromas and essential oils. Using a mortar and pestle to grind larger and/or harder herbs and spices can be very difficult. Many people use an electric grinder to process these herbs and spices instead.

A typical mortar and pestle works well for easier tasks such as bruising herbs and cracking pepper.

Mortar and Pestle Materials

Buying a mortar and pestle

This highly ornate engraved bronze mortar and pestle is early 13th century from Greater Iran, probably Khurasan.



Mortar and pestles can be made out of many different kinds of materials. Some materials work better than others. The material must be hard enough to grind the herb without being worn away by the herb itself. The material must also be strong enough so that small pieces do not grind away and break off and mix in with the herbs.

Smooth and non-porous materials prevent herb pieces from becoming impacted in them. This helps prevent contamination.  It also prevents spoilage caused by the growth of microorganisms of previously leftover herbs.


Some typical materials are ceramic, porcelain, metal and glass.

buying a mortar and pestle

Marble Mortar and Pestle. The grinding end of the pestle has been roughened.

The finish of porcelain mortar and pestles are sometimes roughened by grinding sand with them to create a rougher surface. Porcelain is brittle and stains easily.

Those made of glass are fragile. They don’t stain as easily and are great when processing mixtures using liquids.



Materials include:

buying a mortar and pestle

Wooden Mortar and Pestle

  • Porcelain
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Stone
  • Stoneware
  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Metal, including iron, steel and brass
  • Basalt



Because wooden mortar and pestles can absorb liquids, they are not recommended for wet ingredients. Beautiful wooden mortar and pestles made from old grape vines are sometimes used to grind salt and pepper at the table during a meal.

choosing and buying a mortar and pestle

Various materials are represented by these mortar and pestles – marble, ceramic, glass and wood.


Care and Cleaning of the Mortar and Pestle

Most are easily wiped clean because of their non-porous nature.

Uncooked white rice can be used to clean a mortar and pestle. The rice is ground in, repeating the process with new rice until the rice comes out completely white.

Some stones, such as the molcajete, need to be seasoned before use.

Metal mortars should be lightly cleaned and oiled between uses.


Mortar and Pestle Use

buying a mortar and pestle

A large mortar and pestle is commonly used in third-world countries to husk and remove the hulls from grains.


The mortar and pestle has been used for thousands of years by herbalists and  pharmacists to prepare medicinals. Because of this use, the mortar and pestle became a symbol used to represent a place where herbs and medicines are sold.

The mortar and pestle has been and continues to be used by many peoples and cultures in the preparation of their foods. Since the invention of motorized grinders, however, the mortar and pestle is not used as much as it once was.

Other Uses for the Mortar and Pestle

buying a mortar and pestle

A Molcajete is a larger mortar and pestle, and generally made of basalt.

Wider, shallower mortar and pestles are used when making guacamole, gazpacho and pesto.

“Pesto” is actually a derivative of the word pestle from which it gets its name.

These larger and shallower mortar and pestles are called Molcajetes and are generally made of basalt. They are widely used in Mexican cooking.

Large mortars made of stone with 2-3 ft. long wooden pestles are used in Western Asia to grind meat and to grind garbanzo beans into hummus.


choosing and buying a mortar and pestle

A large mortar and mallet is used to make mochi.

Some mortars have been cut straight into the bedrock. These permanent mortar and pestles were used by Native Americans to grind nuts and acorns. Many of these depressions can still be seen today.

Very large mortars used with large wooden mallets are used in Japan to prepare mochi.

The mortar and pestle is traditionally used to crush turmeric in some Hindu ceremonies.



Mortar and pestles have been used for thousands of years. Even with the invention of the motorized grinder, it will continue to be used by many peoples and cultures for many years to come.

choosing and buying a mortar and pestle

Beautiful obsidian plate and pestle provides a larger base to work on.

After reading all this, did you decide you want a motorized grinder instead? Check these out!

Or maybe a model that allows you to manually turn and grind your herbs with the twist of the wrist?


Looking for unique gift-quality mortar and pestles? Check out the selection below:


Photo credits: Photo 1 (hand-carved metal), Photo 2 (Iranian bronze engraved) is public domain, Photo 3 (marble mortar and pestle), Photo 4 (wooden mortar and pestle), Photo 5 (various materials represented), Photo 6 (women removing hulls), Photo 7 (Molcajete), Photo 8 (making mochi), Photo 9 (obsidian mortar and pestle)

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