How to Use a Mortar and Pestle - Tips and Techniques

How to Use a Mortar and Pestle - Tips and Techniques

The mortar and pestle is a multi-tasking powerhouse of a tool for your kitchen. It’s been around for tens of thousands of years and it’s still difficult to replicate the benefits of the mortar and pestle with any other modern tool. 

Even though the mortar and pestle is versatile and is widely used all over the globe, it’s not that popular of a tool in Western kitchens. 

So if just received your KROK or you’re new to the world of mortars and pestles and you need some guidance around tips and techniques, we’ll go through the three main techniques of how to use your mortar and pestle: smash, grind, emulsify. 

Technique #1: Smash

The first technique we’ll talk about is smashing. This is the easiest and the most fun. And for most ingredients, it’s the first step because harder ingredients cannot be ground until they’ve been smashed a bit. 

Also, the ability to smash ingredients is somewhat unique to the granite mortar and pestle. The Mexican molcajete can’t withstand smashing since most have little legs on the mortar. Smashing into a molcajete could end up with it broken in half. And mortars made from other materials are mostly too light to accomplish much with smashing. 

The smashing technique has many purposes. It’s very handy for breaking down larger ingredients that are just too big to react to a grinding technique. Making a dessert and want to top it with crushed nuts or chocolate? Throw them into the mortar and give them a few hits with the pestle for a perfect uneven texture. 

We’ll discuss grinding more in a bit but if you plan on grinding anything of a decent size or a hard ingredient, the first step is to smash it. This goes for dry spices like peppercorns, ingredients too large to initially grind like a garlic clove or anything else you need to break down before grinding. 

Technique #2: Grind

Grinding is the technique you will use most often. Whether you’re crushing pepper into a fine powder, making a spice blend, or blending a curry or paste, the grinding process will be your best friend. 

After smashing larger ingredients into a manageable size, moving the pestle around on top of the ingredients while applying pressure will continue to break down the ingredients. Most use a circular motion while grinding but rocking the pestle back and forth is also very helpful, especially for tougher ingredients.

Grinding with a stone mortar and pestle instead of a spice grinder will give you complete control while you grind spices. You are much more hands-on with the process so can decide what your texture will be for your spice blend. 

Whether you want chunkier spices for a dry rub or you need a fine powder to blend into a soup, using the mortar and pestle makes it easier to the desired consistency or desired fineness. 

Another quick tip on grinding spices: don’t forget to dry roast your spices on a pan before grinding. Just a few seconds on a hot pan, until fragrant, will lead to so much more depth of flavor when you grind the spices down. This works especially well for peppercorns, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, and cloves. 

For more delicate ingredients like fresh herbs, grinding is still the technique of choice. A heavy stone pestle like granite can grind herbs a bit too quickly so that’s why we recommend using a wooden pestle.


Technique #3: Emulsify

When you are making pesto or sauces with your mortar and pestle, the final and most important step is to emulsify the ingredients. This just means incorporating all the ingredients into one consistent final product. 

Oil is usually the most difficult ingredient to emulsify into a sauce because of its consistency and non-polar molecules. The best method to achieve emulsification is to swirl the pestle around consistently while slowly incorporating the oil. Start with drips and work your way up to a steady pour until you achieve your desired consistency.

Let’s take the recipe for a traditional basil pesto as an example. As with most pesto, you start with garlic cloves and a bit of salt. First, smash to break the clove down, then grind to make a paste. Add pine nuts, smash and grind. Add basil leaves, grind. Add Parmesan cheese, mix together. 

Finally, you’re ready to emulsify. As mentioned earlier, you continuously swirl your pestle will slowly adding the olive oil to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients. 

Emulsifying with a mortar and pestle gives you complete control over the final thickness and texture of your sauce. It also creates a creamier texture than you could ever accomplish with a blender or food processor.  


The KROK Mortar and Pestle

To practice smashing, grinding, and emulsifying, you first need a mortar and pestle. It’s hard to find a mortar as versatile as a Thai granite mortar and pestle like the KROK Mortar and Pestle set. 

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.