Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best mortar and pestle

The mortar and pestle is a simple tool that has been used since ancient times to crush, grind, and pulverize a wide variety of items, including food and medicine. When it comes to changing the consistency of numerous types of substances, this handy tool and bowl duo is just as relevant today as it was tens of thousands of years ago.

Grains, spices, seeds, pills, and more can be placed in a mortar and mashed with the pestle. These tools are made of materials like ceramic, metal, and stone, and are constructed to hold up to the wear and tear of repetitive grinding motions. Though mortars and pestles that are large enough to be placed on the ground and operated with two hands are still used in some countries, most consumer models fit in one hand and can be used on a table or countertop.

The mortar and pestle isn’t a complicated tool, but you still want to make sure that the pair you choose will fit your needs and is built to last. 

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Mortars and pestles used for pharmacological purposes are traditionally made of porcelain. The term “apothecary”, which refers to the preparation of medications, is often associated with the mortar and pestle.

Key considerations

How a mortar and pestle works

Just like the name implies, a mortar and pestle consists of two pieces. The mortar is shaped like a bowl and designed to keep contents contained while being pulverized and mixed. The pestle is cylindrical in shape, with a rounded top and a sturdy build to increase leverage. All you have to do is place the substance you want to grind in the mortar, grip the pestle firmly, and go to work. You can control the resulting consistency by how rigorously you maneuver the pestle — a lighter touch with less force results in coarsely ground materials, while more rigorous motions can turn ingredients into powders or pastes. 

How to use a mortar and pestle

While today’s cooks have many electric-powered options for chopping and grinding ingredients, there are still people who enjoy preparing foods like herbs, spices, and vegetables by hand with a mortar and pestle. You can even use it for altering medications, just like yesterday’s medicine men did. Here are some ideas for putting your mortar and pestle to good use:

  • Grind your own fresh herbs and spices that you grow in your garden.
  • Prepare homemade guacamole and salsa.
  • Mix the ingredients for a delicious pesto sauce.
  • Chop nuts to use as toppings or to add to recipes.
  • Combine and mash the ingredients for hummus.
  • Make a traditional curry paste.
  • Turn clove buds into powder for pumpkin pies and breads.
  • Crush pills for people and animals.
  • Muddle mint and other herbs for cocktails.

Mortar and pestle features


Stone: Granite, marble, and agate are the most popular types of stones used to make mortars and pestles. Granite typically has a rougher finish, making it more suitable for grinding small pieces that may slide around on the slick surfaces of marble and granite.

Metal: Although some models are made of base metals, stainless steel is the most popular because of its durability and resistance to wear, tear, and corrosion. Cast iron mortars and pestles aren’t as common, but they are designed for heavy-duty use.

Wood: Wood mortars and pestles aren’t quite as durable as other options. They’re the most porous and can absorb oils, odors, and flavors. However, wood earns praise for being natural, easy to use, and less heavy to handle than other materials.

Ceramic: This material is also somewhat porous, and is best for small tasks like grinding pills and seeds.

Porcelain: More durable and less porous than ceramic, porcelain’s smooth surface makes it easy to clean. It can be difficult to smash small, slippery items with a porcelain mortar and pestle, but it’s a great tool for preparing moist or oily ingredients.

Some models also feature plastic or silicone-coated bases and handles that improve traction and grip.


Mortars and pestles are available in different sizes to accommodate different needs. Smaller models with mortars that are about 2.5 to 3 inches are best for small tasks, like grinding pills, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds. Larger options range from around 3.5 to 8 inches and are best for preparing sauce, paste, salsa, guacamole, and similar dishes. Keep in mind that these measurements represent the diameter of the mortars, but the matching pestles are similarly sized in length for a workable balance. Mortar depth varies, but it typically ranges from 1.5 inches to 6 inches in height.


Most mortars and pestles have a solid, hefty feel because the work that they’re built to withstand requires pressure and friction. 

The base

The base is designed to prevent the mortar from slipping while substances are being ground with the pestle. Broader bases are best suited for tasks that require more rigorous mashing, like nuts and grains. Some mortars have more narrow, foot-like bases or individual legs, and are best for working with softer ingredients.

"Some of the earliest accounts of the use of the mortar and pestle originate from Egypt."

Mortar and pestle prices

Inexpensive: Mortars and pestles in this category fall on the price spectrum from $6 to $12. Smaller models, and those made of less pricey materials like wood and ceramic, can be found in this range.

Mid-range: Expect to pay about $15 to $20 for medium to large mortars and pestles made of ceramic and metal. Some models made of higher-quality marble and wood are also available at this price point, as well as some lesser-quality granite options.

Expensive: If you want a large mortar and pestle, or one made of top-quality granite, you’ll pay around $25 to $50 or a bit more.


  • Always rinse a new mortar and pestle before you use it. Between uses, clean it thoroughly to prevent accidentally transferring particles from the previous item you crushed the next time you use it. Avoid using soapy water on porous or rough stone surfaces, as the smell and flavor can linger and transfer onto food.
  • Do you have arthritis, tendonitis, or other physical issues that affect your grip? Look for a mortar and pestle with a soft, silicone coating on the handle that makes it more comfortable to use.
  • A mortar and pestle comes in handy for crushing pet medications, especially for dogs and cats that are stubborn about taking pills. Once crushed, they can easily be mixed into wet food. 
  • If you use a mortar and pestle to grind up pills for humans or pets, only crush one dose at a time and wipe the implements clean. This will keep your dosages accurate, which is important when taking medications.
  • If you plan to use a mortar and pestle frequently to prepare ingredients for different dishes, you may want to invest in two sets — a small one for herbs and spices, and a larger version for bigger portions and wet ingredients.
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Did you know?
Because wood is porous, the flavor of herbs and spices like garlic and basil can linger in a wooden mortar and pestle. That makes this material a good choice for cooks who plan to use these tools for the sole purpose of crushing the same flavorful ingredients.
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Not only are mortars and pestles useful, but today’s models make attractive additions to kitchen decor. Storing one on a shelf or countertop makes a nice conversation piece.


Q. Can I clean a mortar and pestle in the dishwasher?
The answer is actually yes and no because it depends on the material. Wood, ceramic, and stainless steel models are usually dishwasher-safe, while those made of different types of rock and wood should be washed by hand. It’s also best to avoid the dishwasher if you have a mortar and pestle with silicone-coated handles and bases.

Q. What materials are best for a mortar and pestle that will primarily be used for preparing moist ingredients?
Metal and porcelain mortars and pestles are best suited for mashing and mixing soft, wet ingredients because they aren’t porous. Materials like wood, ceramic, and some types of porous rock may trap moisture and retain odors and flavors from wet substances; plus they are more difficult to clean.

Q. Why do some mortars and pestles need to be “seasoned”, and how do you season them?
Some mortars and pestles that are made of natural rock can have a rough surface from which small pieces can flake off into food. Seasoning prevents this from happening by smoothing out the rough edges, plus it’s easy to do. After rinsing off your new mortar and pestle, rigorously crush dry rice into it. Rinse and repeat as needed until the inside of the mortar surface develops a grit-free feel.

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