Mortar and pestle

Mortar and pestle are implements used since ancient times to prepare ingredients or substances by crushing and grinding them into a fine paste or powder in the kitchen, medicine and pharmacy. The mortar (/ˈmɔːrtər/) is a bowl, typically made of hard wood, metal, ceramic, or hard stone, such as granite. The pestle (/ˈpɛstəl/) is a heavy and blunt club-shaped object. The substance to be ground, which may be wet or dry, is placed in the mortar, where the pestle is pressed and rotated onto it until the desired texture is achieved.

Mortar and pestle
A simple kitchen mortar and pestle
Other namesMortar grinding machine
Related itemsMill


Raqefet Cave rock mortars
Rock mortars in Raqefet Cave, used to make beer during the Stone Age.
Stone Age Stone Mortar & Pestle, Kebaran culture, 22000-18000 BP
Stone Age stone mortar and pestle, Kebaran culture, 22000-18000 BP

Scientists have found ancient mortars and pestles that date back to approximately 35000 BC.[1]


A traditional mortar
A traditional Indian mortar and pestle.

The English word mortar derives from classical Latin mortarium, meaning, among several other usages, "receptacle for pounding" and "product of grinding or pounding". The classical Latin pistillum, meaning "pounder", led to English pestle.

The Roman poet Juvenal applied both mortarium and pistillum to articles used in the preparation of drugs, reflecting the early use of the mortar and pestle as a symbol of a pharmacist or apothecary.[2]

The antiquity of these tools is well documented in early writing, such as the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus of ~1550 BC (the oldest preserved piece of medical literature) and the Old Testament (Numbers 11:8 and Proverbs 27:22).[3]



Iconic apothecary mortar and pestle, displaying the symbol for medical prescriptions.

Mortars and pestles were traditionally used in pharmacies to crush various ingredients prior to preparing an extemporaneous prescription. The mortar and pestle, with the Rod of Asclepius, the Green Cross, and others, is one of the most pervasive symbols of pharmacology,[4] along with the show globe.

For pharmaceutical use, the mortar and the head of the pestle are usually made of porcelain, while the handle of the pestle is made of wood. This is known as a Wedgwood mortar and pestle and originated in 1759. Today the act of mixing ingredients or reducing the particle size is known as trituration.

Mortars and pestles are also used as drug paraphernalia to grind up pills to speed up absorption when they are ingested, or in preparation for insufflation. To finely ground drugs, not available in liquid dosage form is used also, if patients need artificial nutrition such as parenteral nutrition or by nasogastric tube.

Food preparation

Mortar used to pulverize plant material.

Mortars are also used in cooking to prepare wet or oily ingredients such as guacamole, hummus and pesto (which derives its name from the pestle pounding), as well as grinding spices into powder. The molcajete, a version used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and Maya, stretching back several thousand years, is made of basalt and is used widely in Mexican cooking. Other Native American nations use mortars carved into the bedrock to grind acorns and other nuts. Many such depressions can be found in their territories.

In Japan, very large mortars are used with wooden mallets to prepare mochi. A regular sized Japanese mortar and pestle are called a suribachi and surikogi, respectively. Granite mortars and pestles are used in Southeast Asia,[5][6] as well as Pakistan and India. In India, it is used extensively to make spice mixtures for various delicacies as well as day to day dishes. With the advent of motorized grinders, use of the mortar and pestle has decreased. It is traditional in various Hindu ceremonies (such as weddings, and upanayanam) to crush turmeric in these mortars.

Tjobek the Indonesian word in Dutch spelling for mortars and pestles.

In Malay, it is known as batu lesung. Large stone mortars, with long (2–3 foot) wood pestles were used in West Asia to grind meat for a type of meatloaf, or kibbeh, as well as the hummus variety known as masabcha. In Indonesia and thev Netherlands mortar is known as Cobek or Tjobek and pestle is known as Ulekan or Oelekan. The chobek is shaped lke a deep saucer or plate. The ulekan is either pistol-shaped or an ovoid. It is often used to make fresh sambal, a spicy chili condiment, hence the sambal ulek/oelek denote its process using pestle. It is also used to grind peanut and other ingredients to make peanut sauce for gado-gado.

Husking and dehulling

Women in Cape Verde using a large mortar with multiple pestles.

Large mortars and pestles are commonly used in developing countries to husk and dehull grain. These are usually made of wood, and operated by one or more persons.


Lao cuisine khok
A Lao‑style mortar and pestle.
Mortar and Pestle - Greece
Mortar and Pestle from bronze alloy, Greece.

Good mortar and pestle-making materials must be hard enough to crush the substance rather than be worn away by it. They cannot be too brittle either, or they will break during the pounding and grinding. The material should also be cohesive, so that small bits of the mortar or pestle do not mix in with the ingredients. Smooth and non-porous materials are chosen that will not absorb or trap the substances being ground.[7]

In food preparation, a rough or absorbent material may cause the strong flavour of a past ingredient to be tasted in food prepared later. Also, the food particles left in the mortar and on the pestle may support the growth of microorganisms. When dealing with medications, the previously prepared drugs may interact or mix, contaminating the currently used ingredients.

Rough ceramic mortar and pestle sets can be used to reduce substances to very fine powders, but stain easily and are brittle. Porcelain mortars are sometimes conditioned for use by grinding some sand to give them a rougher surface which helps to reduce the particle size. Glass mortars and pestles are fragile, but stain-resistant and suitable for use with liquids. However, they do not grind as finely as the ceramic type.

ओखल र मुसल
A traditional Nepali Mortar and pestle
Molcajete y tejolote
Molcajete y tejolote, Mexico.

Other materials used include stone, often marble or agate, wood (highly absorbent), bamboo, iron, steel, brass, and basalt. Mortar and pestle sets made from the wood of old grape vines have proved reliable for grinding salt and pepper at the dinner table. Uncooked rice is sometimes ground in mortars to clean them. This process must be repeated until the rice comes out completely white. Some stones, such as molcajete, need to be seasoned first before use. Metal mortars are kept lightly oiled.

Automatic mortar grinder

Since the results obtained with hand grinding are neither reproducible nor reliable, most laboratories work with automatic mortar grinders. Grinding time and pressure of the mortar can be adjusted and fixed, saving time and labor.

The first automatic Mortar Grinder was invented by F. Kurt Retsch in 1923: the "Retschmill".[8]


The use of mortar and pestle, pestling, offers the advantage that the substance is crushed with low energy so that the substance will not warm up.


Bilibin. Baba Yaga
The character Baba Yaga flies while standing in a mortar, and holding a broom in this artwork by Ivan Bilibin.
Bangkang Pinawa, ancient Philippines' mortar and pestle.

In Russian tales, Baba Yagá is portrayed as a hag who flies through the air in a mortar, using the pestle as a rudder.

See also


  1. ^ Wright, K. (1991). "The Origins and Development of Ground Stone Assemblages in Late Pleistocene Southwest Asia". Paléorient. 17 (1): 19–45. JSTOR 41492435.
  2. ^ Satire VII line 170: et quae iam ueteres sanant mortaria caecos. (and the mortars that cure old blind men)
  3. ^ The mortar and pestle from the renaissance to the present
  5. ^ Sukphisit, Suthon (2019-03-24). "The enduring symbol of Thai cuisine". Bangkok Post (B. Magazine). Retrieved 2019-03-24.
  6. ^ "The Mortar and Pestle in Thai Cuisine". Temple of Thai. Retrieved 3 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Kitchen Essentials for Southeast Asian Cooking Basic tools and equipment for cooking Southeast Asian food". about food. Section 2. Mortar and Pestle to Make the Best Spice Pastes. Retrieved 3 December 2016.
  8. ^ Retsch: Size reduction with mortar grinders and disc mills. Rose Scientific Ltd. Retrieved 2009-10-21.

External links

Bumbu (seasoning)

Bumbu is the Indonesian word for a blend of spices and it commonly appears in the names of spice mixtures, sauces and seasoning pastes. Indonesian dictionary describes bumbu as "various types of herbs and plants that has pleasant aroma and flavour — such as ginger, turmeric, galangal, nutmeg and pepper — used to enhance the flavour of the food."It is a characteristic of Indonesian cuisine and its regional variants such as Balinese, Javanese, Sundanese, Padang, Batak and Manado cuisines. It is used with various meats, seafood and vegetables in stews, soups, barbecue, sotos, gulais, and also as an addition to Indonesian-style instant noodles.

Indonesians have developed original gastronomic themes with lemongrass and galangal, cardamom and chilies, tamarind and turmeric.Unlike Indian cooking tradition that favoured dried spice powder mix, Indonesian cuisine is more akin to Thai, which favour the use of fresh ingredients. Traditionally, this mixture of spices and other aromatic ingredients are freshly ground into a moist paste using a mortar and pestle.The spice mixture is commonly made by slicing, chopping, grinding, beating, bruising, or sometimes burning the spices, using traditional cooking tools such as stone mortar and pestle, or a modern blender or food processor. The bumbu mixture was usually stir fried in hot cooking oil first to release its aroma, prior to adding the main ingredient (meats, poultry, or fish).


Cốm, or green rice, is a dish in Vietnamese cuisine. It is not dyed green, as can be done with pandan, but is immature rice kernels roasted over very low heat then pounded in a mortar and pestle until flattened. Cốm is seasonal dish associated with autumn. It can be eaten plain or with coconut. The taste is slightly sweet with a nutty flavor. It is a popular seasonal dessert across Vietnam, especially in Red River Delta cuisine.

A traditional pastry, Bánh Cốm (green rice cake) is made using cốm with mung bean filling. Cốm is often offered to worship the ancestors in the Mid Autumn Festival. The green rice can also be used in sweet soup, Chè Cốm. Cốm is called com dep among the Khmer people. A similar dessert is known as pinipig in the Philippines.

Gastric shield

A gastric shield is an organ in the digestive tract of bivalves, tusk shells, and some gastropods against which a crystalline style typically rotates, in an action resembling that of a mortar and pestle. The gastric shield is permeated by microcanals which transmit digestive enzymes from the stomach, and serves to protect the cells of the stomach lining from the abrasive effects of the style.


Jeolgu (절구) and gongi (공이) are a type of traditional Korean mortar and pestle set, used for pounding grains or tteok (rice cake). They can be made with timber, stone, or iron. Jeolgu is a bowl-shaped vessel in which grains or tteok can be pounded, and gongi refers to either a pestle for a mortar or a stamper for a stamp mill.


Lunumiris (Sinhala:ලුණු මිරිස් [lunu-miris] some also refer it as "Katta Sambal" [Sinhala:කට්ට සම්බෝල [kaṭṭa sambōla]]) is a spicy Sri Lankan sambal paste served as a condiment. It consists of chili pepper, red onions, Maldive fish, sea salt, black pepper and lime juice, usually ground with a mortar and pestle or a grind stone. However red onions aren't used when making katta sambal, and red onions are used in lunu miris so lunu miris has a wetter texture than katta sambal.

This is a paste which is a little bit hot because of the chili powder added.


Matapa is a typical Mozambican dish, prepared with young cassava leaves, which are usually ground in a large wooden mortar and pestle before cooked with garlic, onion and coconut milk. Many "Matapa" dishes add cashew nuts, crab or shrimp and can be eaten with bread, rice, xima or alone.

Matapa was once the name of a southern African empire The Kingdom of Mutapa.


Mofongo (Spanish pronunciation: [moˈfoŋɡo]) is a Puerto Rican dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient. Plantains are picked green and fried, then mashed with salt, garlic, and oil in a wooden pilón (mortar and pestle). The goal is to produce a tight ball of mashed plantains that will absorb the attending condiments and have either pork cracklings (Chicharrón) or bits of bacon inside. Most dressings and mixtures include broth, garlic, and olive oil. It is traditionally served with fried meat and chicken broth soup. Particular flavors result from variations that include vegetables, chicken, shrimp, beef, or octopus packed inside or around the plantain orb.


A molcajete ([molkaˈxete]; Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl molcaxitl) and tejolote are stone tools, the traditional Mexican version of the mortar and pestle, similar to the South American batan, used for grinding various food product.


Mortar may refer to:

Mortar (weapon), an indirect-fire infantry weapon

Mortar (masonry), a material used to fill the gaps between blocks and bind them together

Mortar and pestle, a tool pair used to crush or grind

Mortar, Bihar, a village in India

The Manby mortar, an invention for rescuing shipwreck survivors

Nam chim

Nam chim or nam jim (Thai: น้ำจิ้ม, IPA: [nám tɕîm]) is Thai for "dipping sauce". It can refer to a wide variety of dipping sauces in Thai cuisine, with many of them a combination of salty, sweet, spicy and sour.Nam chim tend to be more watery in consistency than nam phrik (Thai chili pastes). Although Sriracha sauce is commonly known as sot Sriracha in Thailand (sot is the Thai pronunciation of the English word sauce), it is sometimes called nam chim Sriracha or nam phrik Sriracha.

A more-or-less generic and basic nam chim is used for grilled or steamed seafood. This sauce contains garlic, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and bird's eye chilies. Variations on this basic recipe find their use as a dipping sauce with and as an integral part of many dishes. Many of the ingredients in a nam chim are finely chopped or pounded in a mortar and pestle or, non-traditionally, ground in a blender.

Nam phrik

Nam phrik (Thai: น้ำพริก, pronounced [nám pʰrík]) is a type of Thai spicy chili sauce typical of Thai cuisine. Usual ingredients for nam phrik type sauces are fresh or dry chilies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and often some kind of fish or shrimp paste. In the traditional way of preparing these sauces, the ingredients are pounded together using a mortar and pestle, with either salt or fish sauce added to taste.

Nam phrik type sauces are normally served on small saucers placed by the main dish as a condiment or dip for bland preparations, such as raw or boiled greens, fish, poultry and meats. Depending on the type, the region and the family that prepares it, nam phrik may vary in texture from a liquid to a paste to an almost dry, granular, or powdery consistency.

Instead of khrueang kaeng or phrik kaeng, the words nam phrik can also be used to denote Thai curry pastes such as in nam phrik kaeng som for kaeng som or nam phrik kaeng phet for kaeng phet.

Porra antequerana

Porra antequerana is a part of the gazpacho family of soups originating in Andalusia, in southern Spain. Porra antequerana consists of tomato and dried bread. As it is much thicker than its culinary cousins, gazpacho and salmorejo, it is more commonly served as tapas, not soup. Like all soups in this family, there can be variations on the recipe. The word 'Antequerana' derives from the town of Antequera. Porra is a type of club or truncheon and the use of the word in the dish's name likely refers to its traditional preparation with mortar and pestle.

Powdered sugar

Powdered sugar, also called confectioners' sugar, icing sugar, and icing cake, is a finely ground sugar produced by milling granulated sugar into a powdered state. It usually contains a small amount of anti-caking agent to prevent clumping and improve flow. Although most often produced in a factory, powdered sugar can also be made by processing ordinary granulated sugar in a coffee grinder, or by crushing it by hand in a mortar and pestle.

Powdered sugar is utilized in industrial food production when a quick-dissolving sugar is required. Home cooks use it principally to make icing or frosting and other cake decorations. It is often dusted onto baked goods to add a subtle sweetness and delicate decoration.

Powdered sugar is available in varying degrees of fineness, most commonly XXX, XXXX, and 10X: the greater the number of Xs, the finer the particles. Finer particles absorb more moisture, which results in caking. Corn starch or tricalcium phosphate is added at 3 to 5% concentration to absorb moisture and to improve flow by reducing friction between sugar crystals.Because of these anticaking agents, it cannot always be used as a substitute for granulated sugar.

RNA extraction

RNA extraction is the purification of RNA from biological samples. This procedure is complicated by the ubiquitous presence of ribonuclease enzymes in cells and tissues, which can rapidly degrade RNA. Several methods are used in molecular biology to isolate RNA from samples, the most common of these is guanidinium thiocyanate-phenol-chloroform extraction. The filter paper based lysis and elution method features high throughput capacity.RNA extraction in liquid nitrogen, commonly using a mortar and pestle (or specialized steel devices known as tissue pulverizers) is also useful in preventing ribonuclease activity.

Rice huller

A rice huller or rice husker is an agricultural machine used to automate the process of removing the chaff (the outer husks) of grains of rice. Throughout history, there have been numerous techniques to hull rice. Traditionally, it would be pounded using some form of mortar and pestle. An early simple machine to do this is a rice pounder. Later even more efficient machinery was developed to hull and polish rice. These machines are most widely developed and used throughout Asia where the most popular type is the Engelberg huller designed by German Brazilian engineer Evaristo Conrado Engelberg in Brazil and first patented in 1885.The Engelberg huller uses steel rollers to remove the husk. Other types of huller include the disk or cono huller which uses an abrasive rotating disk to first remove the husk before passing the grain to conical rollers which polish it, this is done repeatedly since other sides of circular side of rice are not husked. Rubber rollers may be used to reduce the amount of breakage of the grains, so increasing the yield of the best quality head rice, but the rubber rollers tend to require frequent replacement, which can be a significant drawback.

Rice pounder

A rice pounder is an agricultural tool, a simple machine that is commonly used in Southeast Asia to dehull rice or to turn rice into rice flour. The device has similar functionality to a mortar and pestle, but with more mechanical advantage to conserve labor. Rice is dehulled by continually raising and then dropping the heavy head or pestle of the pounder into a block or mortar.

Some rice pounders are foot-operated; the head is raised by standing on the handle of the device past its fulcrum (similar to a see-saw). Once raised, the user quickly steps off of the handle, allowing the heavy head to fall into the mortar and pulverize its contents. In Bengal (West Bengal, India and Bangladesh), this is called Dhenki, and is still used traditionally in the villages for personal use. This is because it preserves the brown rice coating that is perceived as a healthy part. However, because it is so labor-intensive, its use is gradually decreasing.

Recently, complex mechanical dehuskers or rice hullers powered by gas engines or electricity have replaced many rice pounders.

Stone and muller

A stone and muller is a hand-operated tool used for mixing and grinding paint. The stone and muller was popular with artists and tradesmen from the late 18th through the 19th century. A stone and muller differs from a mortar and pestle in that the former consists of two flat stone surfaces which are rubbed together to create a paste, whereas the latter consists of a bowl and stick.


Suribachi (literally: grinding-bowl) and surikogi (literally: grind-powder-wood) are a Japanese mortar and pestle. These mortars are used in Japanese cooking to crush different ingredients such as sesame seeds.The suribachi is a pottery bowl, glazed on the outside and with a rough pattern called kushi-no-me on the unglazed inside. This surface is somewhat similar to the surface of the oroshigane (grater). The surikogi pestle is made from wood to avoid excessive wear on the suribachi. Traditionally, the wood from the sanshō tree (Japanese prickly ash) was used, which adds a slight flavor to the food, although nowadays other woods are more common. The bowls have a diameter from 10 cm to 30 cm. To use the suribachi the bowl is set on a non-slip surface, such as a rubber mat or a damp towel, and the surikogi is used to grind the material. Recently, plastic versions of the suribachi have also become popular, but they have a much shorter lifespan. The suribachi and surikogi arrived in Japan from China around 1000 AD. The mortar was first used for medicine, and only later for food products. A larger sized Japanese mortar used to pound rice is an usu with a pestle called kine.The highest mountain on Iwo Jima, Mount Suribachi, was named after this kitchen device.


Toum or Toumya (Levantine Arabic: ْتُوم "garlic") is a garlic sauce common to the Levant. Similar to the Provençal aioli, it contains garlic, salt, olive oil or vegetable oil, and lemon juice, traditionally crushed together using a wooden mortar and pestle. There is also a variation popular in many places, such as the town of Zgharta, in Lebanon, where mint is added; it is called "zeit wa toum" (oil and garlic).Toum is used as a dip, especially with French fries and chicken, and in Levantine sandwiches, especially those containing chicken.

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