Mortar and Pestle, Pros and Cons

Use of mortar and pestle is an old style grinding method. Small amount of food sample is placed in cup like structure and pound repeatedly to attain small particles. Using electric blender is the new and current. It often does the job in matter of seconds. It gives good and repeatable results.

However, there are cases when mortar and pestle is more ideal than electric blender. Like pounding garlic and black pepper for daily cooking needs. The mortar and pestle does the job well, easy to clean and saves electricity.

There are three basic types, metal, mineral and wood. Each has their own advantages and weaknesses.

1) Metal – brass, steel, stainless steel. No question about hardness of these metals. They can withstand repeated exposure to pounding force without wear. But be aware that metals react to acid. Always remember not to use it to grind / mash acid foods. Also, steel is prone to rusting. Always keep them clean and dry.

2) Mineral – stone, marble. What happen when two stones hit each other? They have the tendency to break apart. The same goes with these kind of mortar and pestle. Repeated use breaks particles. You might be including stone or marble powder/pieces in your food preparation. Marble is sensitive to acid foods. The latter tend to weaken the first. More particles are going to be included in your next dish.

marble mortar and pestle
3) Wood – the lightest among the three types and probably the worse. Wood absorbs water. Long and repeated exposure to food sample make the case worse. Harmful microorganisms loves moist surfaces. You are harboring dangers to food every use.

wooden mortar and pestle

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

One Reply to “Mortar and Pestle, Pros and Cons”

  1. “Wood absorbs water. Long and repeated exposure to food sample make the case worse. Harmful microorganisms loves moist surfaces. You are harboring dangers to food every use.”

    This is misleading. If it were true wooden butchers’ blocks everywhere would have been spreading bugs for years. So long as they are cleaned properly they don’t. Any surface that isn’t cleaned properly can harbour bacteria.

    Plenty of research has been done into wooden chopping boards which shows them to be every bit as hygienic as other surfaces. In fact many types of wood contain oils that are naturally anti-bacterial. Bacteria in fact gets drawn away from the surface an into the body of the wood by capillary action where it dies off.

    Something that’s both a pro and a con for a wooden pestle and mortar is that it CAN pick up food flavours. If you are wanting to use your pestle and mortar for a wide variety of grinding then this will make wood a bad idea. But there are people out there that swear by old their wooden pestle and mortar if they are using them for similar ingredients.

    The perception of wooden surfaces as poor performers in relation to bacteria control is quite common but not supported by the science that I’ve read. A good summary of this is here:

    Wood has been used safely in food prep for thousands of years. With proper routine cleaning (nothing different from other surfaces) it performs as well as if not better than alternatives.

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