After rigorous testing, our expert chose the IKEA Adelsten Mortar and Pestle Set as the best overall pick because of its versatility and ability to grind both wet and dry ingredients. If you're looking for a budget option, you won't be disappointed in the tried-and-true Cole & Mason Granite Mortar and Pestle.
A lot of people think that anything an old-fashioned mortar and pestle can do, a modern appliance (like a food processor or blender) can do better. But if you’ve gotten serious about authentic pesto or homemade curry paste, you know in many cases the grinding, blending, emulsifying action of a hefty mortar and pestle yields a subtly but significantly better result. Not all sets are created equal, however, and not every design is right for every home cook.
To help you find which mortar and pestle set is right for you, we tested them side by side and evaluated each on its design, ease of use, quality, and overall value. Our expert made many batches of fresh pesto, pulverized spices such as cloves, peppercorns, cardamom, and fennel seeds (she even made za'atar), and, of course, mashed a seemingly infinite amount of avocados to create the best guacamole ever.
Here are the best mortar and pestle sets of all shapes, materials, and sizes, according to our home tests.
Best Overall: IKEA Adelsten Mortar and Pestle
Sleek finish doesn’t need seasoning
Two sizes in one mortar
Fairly smooth pestle working end
This modern-looking mortar and pestle set is inexpensive without sacrificing style and quality. Made from marble, the mortar’s bowl has the ridged interior you’ll need for maximizing success while minimizing effort, especially when it comes to grinding whole dried spices and crushing raw garlic. (Crushed garlic is an upgrade in almost any recipe that calls for minced garlic.) The mortar is even reversible. Flip it over and you’ll find a shallow basin for grinding half a teaspoon of freshly toasted cumin or pulverizing a little fresh ginger.
According to our tester, the small side of the mortar worked well for about half a teaspoon of peppercorns, cumin, or coriander; a larger portion tended to bounce out. As for the large side, an avocado for guacamole mostly filled the bowl when in two halves. It moved around a bit during the initial mashing, but after that, our tester could complete the job without having to stop and cut it into smaller chunks.
The modest size of this product makes it a workable addition to even smaller kitchens, where you can store it on your countertop or a kitchen shelf. The polished exterior is easy to clean, and our tester had no problems brushing the last finely ground spice powder from the mortar’s rougher surface and washing it with clean water when finished. As a bonus, this set doesn’t need seasoning before first use. Our tester just washed it with clean water, scrubbing lightly with a brush to remove any surface grit, and let it air dry.
Price at time of publish: $20
Capacity: 0.75 cups | Weight: 6 pounds | Material: Marble | Dimensions: 3.94 x 3.94 x 4.72 inches
"The pommel handle of the pestle in this set fit nicely into my hand and was easy to hold without getting tired. The marble set did a great job of getting basil and garlic creamy in the lightly ridged bowl, but could also crush whole spices to powder." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best Budget: Cole & Mason Mortar and Pestle
Rough interior quickly grinds spices
Polished exterior cleans up quickly
More affordable than others
This tidy, well-balanced mortar and pestle duo comes with a price tag that makes it a good choice for a first mortar and pestle set or one dedicated to small jobs. This set is attractive enough to be a permanent fixture on your counter or compact and light enough to stash away. It is especially efficient at grinding dried spices in small quantities. Our tester also put garlic in it and found the blunt pestle head matched the bowl shape nicely, making it ideal for crushing. She could even smash one or two avocado halves for a personal batch of guacamole.
Unlike many other mortars and pestles, this set splits the difference between a polished and an unpolished surface. The bowl’s exterior and top of the mortar are smooth for easy cleaning, while the bowl’s interior and the pestle’s tip are coarser for better grinding. Our tester liked that the granite pestle is rough on the working end, which helps thoroughly pulverize tough peppercorns or coriander seeds without breaking a sweat, but smooth on the end she held in her hand as she rolled it over spices and herbs.
Price at time of publish: $25
Capacity: 1 cup | Weight: 3.96 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 5.12 x 5.12 x 3.15 inches
"The shape of the bowl and pestle worked well together with everything I tested, as long as I kept the batch size small. The fairly flat bottom in the mortar and matching shape on the pestle head were great for pounding garlic." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best for Small Kitchens: Chef'n Mortar and Pestle
Mortar can be tilted for better access
Pestle can mash spices or wet ingredients
Not as useful for bigger jobs
The exterior marble surface of this mortar and pestle seems smoother than granite versions that are more obviously ridged and roughly textured. Inside, however, the mortar is filled with tiny pits that our tester found could grind ingredients as efficiently as craggier surfaces, especially when paired with the coarse texture on the working end of the pestle. That texturing does mean that Chef’n recommends seasoning the set before you use it for the first time, a process that took our tester about an hour.
What sets this mortar and pestle apart is the separate silicone base. It feels steady and less likely to scratch a countertop than bases made from stone if they slide around. It also slightly softens the impact of pounding with the pestle, making it comfortable to use force. Our tester liked that she could set the rounded mortar bowl at different angles on the base for better contact in different grinding stages. This set’s relatively compact size and manageable weight (4 pounds) are ideal for small spaces, so it won’t need to be stashed away after every use. That also limits its capacity, so our tester recommends keeping portions small and adding basil in batches.
Price at time of publish: $43
Capacity: 1-1.25 cups | Weight: 2.92 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 4.9 x 4.9 x 6.45 inches
"At some point when grinding, I tend to wish I could tip a mortar at an angle for better access, and this combination of rounded mortar exterior and separate base let me do just that. It sat quite firmly and securely in the base and on the counter when perfectly upright or slightly tilted." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best for Dry Spices: ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set
Tall walls keep spices inside
Can also work wet ingredients
Doubles as a serving piece
Pestle slightly uncomfortable
This set is big and sturdy, as a mortar and pestle set should be, without being overwhelmingly bulky. The mortar has an attractive bowl with a 2-cup capacity. Our tester liked how the tall walls and rough-textured surface of the bowl let her easily grind whole spices to a fine powder without chasing them too much around the interior. (You’ll notice immediately that spices ground just before use are far more fragrant and flavorful than those bottles of pre-ground spices.) The set does weigh in at 7 pounds, making it heavy for its capacity.
Beyond dry spices, this versatile set is a decent size for small batches of common mortar and pestle tasks, like guacamole, salsa, curry paste, and pesto. The tool can quickly turn sharp raw garlic into a more mellow paste with a few efficient thumps. In all, it satisfies most home-cooking needs and can even move to the table for serving. It comes with a self-adhesive pad that you can stick to the bottom to keep from scratching your table or counter, and it was one of the few sets we tested that came with detailed seasoning instructions, making it a good choice for someone new to this tool.
In a previous version of this roundup, the ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set appeared as our best overall pick. After testing, our expert decided it was a better fit as the winner of our "best for dry spices" superlative, as grinding rice for seasoning took time and effort. Grinding garlic and spices after the rice went better and made a nice paste. For pesto, it didn’t take much to overload it with leaves so that they started to climb over the edges of the bowl, although they stayed inside fine once they started to break down. Finely ground spices did want to cling to the mortar’s rough granite surface, but could be brushed out. A single avocado mostly filled the bowl, but it mashed easily without being chopped first.
Price at time of publish: $35
Capacity: 2 cups | Weight: 7 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 6 inches
"Whole spices didn’t jump around too much during grinding, thanks to this mortar’s tall side walls. I could turn a blend of hard whole spices like cinnamon, allspice, and peppercorns into a consistent powder in just a few minutes." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best Design: Williams Sonoma Marble Mortar and Pestle
On the larger side
Looks gorgeous on your counter
Smoothly emulsifies herbs and oil
Marble and wood stain easily
If you want to make a statement, this stunning white mortar with its handsome wooden pestle might be the one for you. The mortar is made in Italy from Carrara marble, so it should come as no surprise that this set is especially adept at making pesto the old-fashioned way. (Our tester added her sauce to fresh homemade pasta for maximum Italiano vibes.) It’s pricey compared with the other models we tested, but it's still more affordable than many Italian marble imports on the market. The marble doesn’t need seasoning, but it is prone to stains, which Williams Sonoma recommends removing with lemon juice or vinegar.
The beechwood pestle is designed to create smooth emulsions of fragrant basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. Our tester also used it successfully to grind dry spices, but it took a little more brute strength to work the lighter wood pestle instead of something weightier, like granite. Still, if your goal is to have a beautiful mortar and pestle or make an authentic version of pesto superior to what you can achieve with a food processor, this is a kitchen essential.
Short, sharp pounds were most effective and less tiring when breaking down basil leaves. After the first couple of drizzles of oil, the vertical pounding motion would just get splashy, so circular grinding and stirring worked best to finish off the pesto.
Price at time of publish: $100
Capacity: 2.5 cups | Weight: 7 pounds | Material: Marble | Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 7 inches
"The set was ideal for pesto making, although the basil stained both marble and wood. The wood pestle was less efficient on hard whole spices, but it did make quick work of a few peppercorns and the sesame seeds and herbs for za’atar." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best for Guacamole: IMUSA Molcajete Spice Grinder
Can use for serving
Comfortable pestle to hold and roll
Could leave messy fingers
If your signature dish is guacamole, this granite molcajete should be on your wishlist. There’s no better vessel for making and serving the classic and crowd-pleasing Mexican dip. This 2-cup set will quickly and easily grind small batches of tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, and avocado. The pestle’s dumbbell shape fit our tester’s hand well and was comfortable when bashing and rolling, although the shallow bowl and short pestle meant her fingers could get messy with a large batch.
You’ll get good performance from this set for all the other things you want a mortar and pestle to do, but it’s especially wonderful for making any taco night feel like a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant. Our tester recommends mashing the avocado in the mortar, moving it to a small bowl to mix in other ingredients, and then proudly serving your guacamole in the molcajete. If you want to go all the way, make your own homemade tortillas and consider one of our avocado storage recommendations for leftovers.
Price at time of publish: $30
Capacity: 2 cups | Weight: 5.3 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 3.9 x 6.7 x 6.7 inches
"The rough surface of this set broke down garlic and nuts quickly, and it was great when creating a flavored salt. The pestle was comfortable to use in all of the tests and fit my palm well. The set worked best when mashing just one avocado at a time, and even greasy ingredients washed off quickly with warm water, although the bowl is bit large and heavy to hold in the sink." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
Best Large: Vasconia 4-Cup Granite Molcajete Mortar and Pestle
Wide, shallow surface
Works for mixing and serving
Large capacity means less mess
There are times when you want to whip up a party-size batch of salsa. Or, maybe you want to make enough curry paste to last you the rest of the year. For kitchen projects like these, a dainty mortar and pestle simply will not work. You’ll need a seriously sizable mortar and pestle, and this set will not let you down. Our tester still liked this set for smaller jobs, since mortars make less mess if they’re only filled to about a third of their capacity when pounding and grinding.
This big boy warrants pride of place on your countertop. It’s so heavy (11.75 pounds) that you won’t want to haul it in and out of the cabinet every time you need it. The bowl holds 4 cups, so you’ll have the room you need to pound out plenty of pesto. Our tester found the wide surface quickly emulsified herbs and oil to a creamy texture. The molcajete’s sturdy sides will hold all your ingredients where you want them—in the bowl and not on the floor. The weight of the pestle means grinding up spices requires less elbow grease.
Price at time of publish: $30
Capacity: 4 cups | Weight: 8.9 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 8.8 x 9.2 x 13 inches
"I have a small kitchen and gravitate toward space-saving tools—except when it comes to a mortar and pestle set. Even for small jobs, a large mortar is more efficient and less messy. It’s worth considering the largest set you can find room for in your kitchen." — Julie Laing, Product Tester
How We Tested
We sent all of the mortar and pestle sets on this roundup to our experienced home chef and product tester, who used each to emulsify herbs for sauces, including pesto, cream avocados for guacamole, and grind multiple different spices. Each mortar and pestle set was rated on design, ease of use, quality, and overall value. Our tester then offered additional insights on each mortar and pestle set's strengths and weaknesses.
“Up to 90 percent of taste originates from volatile smell molecules. By gently crushing aromatic herbs, spices, and other fragrant plant substances you are contributing to the depth of flavor in a major way.” — Olivia Roszkowski, Chef and Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education
What to Look for in a Mortar and Pestle Set
The size of your mortar will depend on what you use it for. If you plan to crush herbs and spices, garlic, or ginger exclusively, a small mortar is sufficient. Bigger projects like guacamole, hummus, pesto, or fresh salsa call for a larger mortar. It's equally important to make sure your pestle isn't too skinny or short so that your hand doesn't hit the edge of the mortar. Also, the head of the pestle must be broad enough to properly pulverize.
You're going to want an evenly round bowl to make sure you can swirl around and crush every piece of food in the mortar. Cylindrical bowls with sharp corners make it harder to reach contents with the pestle.
Try to avoid mortars with a super smooth, glossy bowl because they lack the abrasiveness needed for grinding and shearing foods. In most cases, solid stone is best—such as marble or granite—because it's so strong and durable. Unlike ceramic, you can really drive some force into grinding and crushing without worrying about cracking or chipping. Wood is another wonderful choice in certain situations—wooden pestles are certainly much softer on the hands—though it is usually less effective than stone.
In all of the mortar and pestle sets we tested, cinnamon sticks proved the most challenging to grind. Our tester tried several techniques, including breaking apart the sticks by hand and even hand-grating the cinnamon first, which didn’t save any time or effort. She got the best results when she worked just the cinnamon sticks with the mortar and pestle before adding other spices.
The easiest method was to start by cracking whole cinnamon sticks in half and then into pieces with a few pestle whacks. Our tester then toasted the small pieces in a dry skillet until fragrant. This softened the cinnamon, which she could then return warm to the mortar and pound for a couple of minutes into powder. She then sifted out any remaining chunks through a small fine-mesh colander, returned these chunks to a skillet to toast with any other spices she wanted to blend in, and again pounded everything as finely as possible before sifting a final time. For large batches of cinnamon, you may prefer an electric spice grinder.
How do you clean a mortar and pestle set?
Hand wash your mortar and pestle set using warm water as soon as you’re finished grinding in it or serving from it, and then let it air dry. Most manufacturers advise against using scented soaps or detergents, which will flavor your creations.
Do you need to season a mortar and pestle set?
Like cast iron cookware, most mortar and pestle sets need to be seasoned before use. Ones made with coarse, unfinished granite generally will. A marble set may also need seasoning, especially if it has rough surfaces, but smooth ones sometimes can just be washed with clean water (perhaps with the aid of a soft scrub brush) and completely dried before first use.
Seasoning usually starts with washing it by hand out of the box (many mortar and pestles are not dishwasher safe) and then drying it thoroughly. Then, you want to grind a few tablespoons of plain white rice to a fine powder to get the surface ready to use. Refer to the instructions that come with your mortar pestle for details on how to season and care for yours.
Can you use a mortar and pestle set to grind coffee?
Yes, you can. The disadvantage of this method is that it can take a while. The advantage is that you have extreme control over the size of your grind.
How do you care for a wooden mortar and pestle set?
First, make sure to seal it with mineral oil or other food-safe oil. Always make sure it’s fully dry before you store it away in a dark cupboard. If you’re grinding dry ingredients, just wipe it out with a paper towel. For wet ingredients, you can give it a quick rinse with hot water. If you find that it’s starting to hold on to aromas, grind a bit of rice in it as a reset.
The difference between pesto pounded with a mortar and pestle and that blended in a food processor is like the difference between homemade buttercream frosting and the sugar-crazed icing of a grocery store sheet cake. That said, there is one challenge: Store-bought basil can have larger leaves with thicker ribs compared with homegrown. Our tester recommends pulling midribs out, like you’re removing the strings from fresh pea pods, and roughly tearing large store-bought leaves before pounding them.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Joy Manning is a food writer and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post. She’s the author of "Almost Meatless" and "Stuff Every Cook Should Know."
Christine Clark, who updated this roundup, is a Certified Cheese Professional by The American Cheese Society. She has a cheese podcast, a fridge that is always too full, and a very lived-in kitchen. She interviewed one expert for this piece.
Julie Laing, who also updated this roundup, has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years and published her first cookbook, "The Complete Guide to Pickling," in 2020. She buys whole spices to dry toast and grind into custom blends for curries, spiced nuts, and more. Her large garden produces chiles, basil, garlic, and other ingredients for salsas, curry and chile pastes, and pesto. Julie personally tested all seven mortar and pestle sets for this roundup.