The mortar and pestle is an ancient tool, historically used in the kitchen and for medicinal purposes. Since it’s been around for thousands of years, there are obviously numerous versions and variations to the mortar and pestle. Depending on use, culinary traditions, local materials, and many other factors, the mortar and pestle looks different all over the world, even though they all use the same concept: smashing and grinding ingredients between two hard objects because ever cuisine benefits from freshly ground spices.
In today’s kitchen, there have been many attempts to replace mortar and pestle sets with modern, electric tools. The food processor, the blender, the spice grinder, they’ve all been advertised as accomplishing the same end product as mortar and pestle sets. Scientifically, this just isn’t true. These electric tools can only cut the ingredients smaller and smaller while the mortar and pestle actually smashes the ingredients apart. What this accomplishes is a crushing of the cell wall, releasing hidden aromas, oils, and flavors that you can’t reach any other way.
So now that you’ve decided you need a mortar and pestle in your kitchen, how do you choose the best one? We’re here to help you navigate through the different sizes, styles, and materials, to make sure you end up with the best tool for any and all of your uses.
The Materials Used for Mortar and Pestles
The first major decision is to decide on which material you want your mortar and pestle to be made from. Most usable mortars are manufactured from either a hard stone, a terracotta-like material, or wood. You’ll find other materials used, like a glass mortar, wooden mortar, ceramic mortar, or even a brass mortar, but these materials aren’t strong enough to handle actual use and are usually more for decorative purposes. As for the pestle, it’s fairly standard for it to either be the same material as the mortar or the mortar will come with a wooden pestle.
The two most commonly used stone materials would be for the granite mortar and white marble mortar. You’ll also see ones made from porous volcanic rock or clay material like terracotta. Granite and volcanic stone mortars usually are paired with a pestle of the same material while marble mortars and clay mortars and usually paired with wooden pestles. The wood pestle with these mortars is because marble and clay are a bit more delicate and wouldn’t hold up to the pounding of a stone pestle so the wooden pestle is used to protect the marble mortar and also handle herbs like basil leaves or softer ingredients like pine nuts (both necessary for making pesto with that perfect creamy texture, just add some olive oil, a few garlic cloves, and grated Parmesan cheese. After combining, swirl with the wooden pestle until you have an emulsified sauce).
The Size and Shape of the Mortar and Pestle Sets
Size and shape are the next major decisions when choosing the best mortar and pestle set for your kitchen. Mortars can come and many sizes, from so small that you can barely fit one ingredient to so big you’d need a crane to move it. To choose, you’ll need to think about what you plan on and want to use the mortar and pestle for. If you’re only going to be grinding a few tablespoons of peppercorn every few days, maybe a smaller mortar is sufficient. The small mortar will be a quick and easy tool to grind spices or something like sesame seeds. Using the small mortar and a bit of elbow grease for grinding spices will be much more efficient than grabbing an electric spice grinder, plugging it in to use it, and then trying to hand wash all the small parts of the spice grinder (unless it's dishwasher safe).
If you think you’ll be combining a few ingredients for a sauce or Thai curry paste, then having a mortar with 2-3 cups of space would be necessary. The larger mortar and large pestle with a round bowl shape will give you enough space for adding multiple ingredients when making curry pastes, a quick garlic paste, or grinding spices for a spice mixture. With the large mortar and pestle set, whole spices can be turned to a fine powder or left as chunky as you want, giving you more control than a food processor ever would.
As for the shape of the mortar, for most uses, you want a perfectly rounded bowl with a rough surface. This is so that ingredients can’t hide from your pestle in the corners of a mortar that isn’t perfectly round. And this heavy pestle should be narrow enough at the top so you can grip it well but wide enough at the pestle head to have enough space to crush ingredients without them popping away from you. You also want the pestle to be long enough so that the side of your hand isn’t hitting the edge of the mortar.
So What is the Best Mortar and Pestle Set for Your Kitchen?
Technically, the best option would be to have multiple versions of stone mortar and pestle sets. Italian marble mortar with an olivewood pestle or a beechwood pestle for the subtle herbs of pesto, Thai granite mortar and pestle set for the tough skins of chilies, Mexican mortar made with volcanic rock (molcajete) for chunky guacamole, Japanese mortar and pestle set (suribachi and surikogi) perfect for grinding sesame seeds, etc., but who has the kitchen space and wallet for that level of commitment?
If you need to limit yourself to one purchase, the most versatile option is a Thai granite mortar and pestle, especially one with around a 3-cup volume mortar bowl. This large mortar and pestle set will give you enough space for larger recipes like a curry paste while still being small enough to quickly grab for single-ingredient uses, from coriander seeds to grinding black peppercorns.
With the Thai granite mortar and pestle set being made out of granite, you will have the weight and strength to smash and grind any ingredient. Touch chili skins, or hard, dried spices like peppercorns or cinnamon sticks, nothing is a match against the granite pestle. While perfect for ground spices or a curry paste, granite mortar and pestle sets also can handle delicate herbs for pestos or sauces like gremolata.
KROK Mortar and Pestle
The KROK mortar and pestle is the best granite mortar and pestle set on the market. Handmade from high-quality Thai granite, KROK mortar and pestle sets are manufactured in the Thai village of Ang Sila by craftsmasters.
With KROK’s unique cork bottom and updated design, you will have a 3-cup volume with a mortar that is lighter than even most 2-cup mortars. Both the mortar and the pestle are made from the same Thai granite and designed to fit in your hand better while having a larger bottom for optimum crushing ability. The KROK granite pestle is also longer than standard pestles so that your hand won’t hit the side of the mortar while using it.
Purchasing a KROK mortar and pestle set not only means you have a beautiful, ancient tool in your kitchen to use for everyday cooking. You’re also helping KROK preserve the fading tradition of hand-making beautiful Thai mortar and pestle sets with high-quality materials.