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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.
“A smooth mortar and pestle set is easier to clean and will quickly break down dry toasted spices to a coarse, ground consistency—for example, breaking down coarsely ground black peppercorns for a rub or smashed cardamon pods to add to a chai," says Olivia Roszkowski, a chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. "Mortars with defined ridges come in handy when texture is more important and also aid in breaking down tougher items like sesame seeds, tenderizing the skins of hot chiles, and pounding glutinous rice into mochi.”
Here are the best mortar and pestle sets of all shapes, materials, and sizes.
Best Overall: ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set
Good for wet or dry ingredients
Doubles as a serving piece
This sturdy set should more than satisfy most home cooks in need of a mortar and pestle. It’s big and sturdy, as a mortar and pestle set should be, without being overwhelmingly bulky and heavy. The mortar has a well-shaped bowl with a 2-cup capacity. The set weighs in at 7 pounds. A heavy pestle like this one combined with the rough-textured surface of the bowl lets you easily grind whole spices to a fine powder without chasing them around the interior.
It's also a good size for common mortar and pestle tasks, such as guacamole, salsa, curry paste, and pesto. This is an ideal tool for those times you want to quickly turn sharp raw garlic into a more mellow paste with a few efficient thumps. (Crushed garlic is an upgrade in almost any recipe that calls for minced garlic.) This versatile mortar and pestle set is equally adept at grinding wet or dry ingredients.
Capacity: 2 cups | Weight: 7 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 6 inches
Best for Small Kitchens: Chef'n Mortar and Pestle
Quieter than others
Not as useful for bigger jobs
The granite surface of this mortar and pestle seems smoother than other versions that are more obviously ridged and rough-textured. The stone, however, is filled with tiny pits that are pretty efficient at grinding ingredients, almost as well as craggier surfaces.
What sets this mortar and pestle apart is the silicone base. It feels steadier than others made from stone, which can easily slide around. The base also softens the impact of pounding with the pestle, making it more comfortable to use more force. Its relatively compact size and manageable weight (less than 3 pounds) are ideal for small spaces, where it will need to be stashed away between every use.
Capacity: 1-1.25 cups | Weight: 2.92 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 4.9 x 4.9 x 6.45 inches
Like cast iron cookware, most mortar and pestle sets need to be seasoned before use. Usually, this 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.
Best for Dry Spices: Cole & Mason Mortar and Pestle
Better for small quantities
More affordable than others
Not as useful for bigger jobs
This tidy, well-balanced mortar and pestle duo is especially efficient at grinding dried spices in small quantities. (You’ll notice immediately that spices ground just before use are far more fragrant and flavorful than those bottles of pre-ground spices.)
This set is attractive enough to be a permanent fixture on your counter but compact and light enough to stash away if need be. The granite pestle is heavy for its size, which helps in thoroughly pulverizing tough peppercorns or coriander seeds without breaking a sweat. Unlike many other mortars and pestles, this set splits the difference between a polished and unpolished surface. The bowl’s exterior and top of the mortar are polished smooth for easy cleaning, while the bowl’s interior and pestle’s tip are unpolished for better grinding.
Capacity: 1 cup | Weight: 3.96 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 5.12 x 5.12 x 3.15 inches
Best Budget: IKEA Adelsten Mortar and Pestle
Sleek dark marble finish
Not as sturdy as some others
This set is inexpensive without sacrificing style and quality. Made from marble, the mortar’s bowl has the ridged interior you’ll need for maximizing grinding success while minimizing effort, especially when it comes to tough, whole dried spices.
Its modest size makes it a workable addition to even smaller kitchens, and thanks to the two-toned design and polished exterior, it's also attractive enough to store on your countertop or kitchen shelf. One of the handiest features is that the mortar is reversible. Flip it over, and you’ll find a small bowl perfect for grinding a teaspoon of freshly toasted cumin or pulverizing a little fresh ginger.
Capacity: 0.75 cups | Weight: 6 pounds | Material: Marble | Dimensions: 3.94 x 3.94 x 4.72 inches
Best Design: Williams Sonoma Marble Mortar and Pestle
On the larger side
Looks gorgeous on your counter
Not as sturdy as others
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 this set is especially adept at making pesto the old-fashioned way. (Add your sauce to fresh homemade pasta for maximum Italiano vibes.)
The beechwood pestle is made for creating lush, smooth emulsions of fragrant basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. You can also grind hard, dry spices, of course, but it will take a little more brute strength when you are working with a lighter wood pestle instead of something weightier, like granite. But if your goal is having a beautiful mortar and pestle or making an authentic version of pesto superior to what you can achieve with a food processor, this is a kitchen essential.
Capacity: 2.5 cups | Weight: 7 pounds | Material: Marble | Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 7 inches
“As a chef, I gravitate towards efficiency and so generally choose a large and sturdy model. It is much easier to crush ingredients into a paste when working with a larger model because the tiny seeds and spices are less likely to fly out of the vessel. I also find that you can put more force on the items this way. It is also useful if the material is heavier as it will stay steady on the surface you are working on.” — Olivia Roszkowski, Chef and Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education
Best for Guacamole: IMUSA Molcajete Spice Grinder
Doubles as a serving piece
Trickier pestle to grip
If your signature dish is guacamole, this traditional molcajete (that’s Spanish for mortar and pestle) should be on your wishlist. There’s no better vessel for making and serving the classic and crowd-pleasing Mexican dip. Made of granite, this set will quickly and easily grind your tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, and avocado.
You’ll also get good performance from this set for all the other things you want a mortar and pestle to do, but it’s especially perfect for making any taco night feel like a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant. You can proudly serve your guacamole right in the molcajete you mixed it in. If you want to go all the way, make your own homemade tortillas.
Capacity: 2 cups | Weight: 5.3 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 3.9 x 6.7 x 6.7 inches
“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
Best Large: Vasconia 4-Cup Granite Molcajete Mortar and Pestle
Doubles as a serving piece
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 times like these, a dainty mortar and pestle simply will not work. You’ll need a seriously sizable mortar and pestle for those kitchen projects, and this set will not let you down.
This big boy warrants pride of place on your countertop. It’s heavy enough (9 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 all the room you need to pound out plenty of pesto. 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 of your elbow grease.
Capacity: 4 cups | Weight: 8.9 pounds | Material: Granite | Dimensions: 8.8 x 9.2 x 13 inches
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.
How do you clean a mortar and pestle set?
Hand wash your mortar and pestle set using warm water and unscented dish soap. Dish soaps with added scents could add unwanted aroma to your mortar and pestle set.
Do you need to season a mortar and pestle set?
Not all mortar and pestle sets need to be seasoned, but ones made with coarse, unfinished granite generally will. Wash and completely dry your set first, then grind a small amount of white rice until no more debris comes off the bowl.
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 onto aromas, grind a bit of rice in it as a reset.
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.