Last updated: August 10, 2021

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A mortar enables you to prepare particularly aromatic dishes. For example, you can use it to create an authentic Pesto alla Genovese in just a few steps, whose unique taste will convince even the most critical guests. The flavours of the selected ingredients are particularly well accentuated by hand-crushing. Depending on the material and texture, mortars are suitable for processing either dry or fresh ingredients.

With our large mortar test 2021 we give you an overview of all common types of mortars and show their advantages and disadvantages. This way you can find the ideal mortar for your individual needs. We also present the most important criteria that are relevant when buying a mortar. This guide will make your purchase decision easier, so that you can soon prepare your own kitchen creations with your new mortar!




Summary

  • Mortars are used to grind and crush spices, herbs, seeds or nuts. You can also use them to make creamy sauces, spice pastes and pesto.
  • Mortars and pestles with a rough surface are perfect for pulverising dry spices. Smooth surfaces are better suited for processing moist or liquid ingredients.
  • The variety of materials on offer is very large. Therefore, pay attention to the quality of the workmanship and choose a model that suits both your intended use and your aesthetic preferences.

The Best Mortar: Our Picks

Mortars: buying and evaluation criteria

Before buying a mortar, there are a few criteria to consider. We have collected the most important quality features for you so that you can make the right purchase decision. You should pay particular attention to the following aspects:

These individual evaluation criteria are presented in more detail in the following sections.

Material

Mortars and pestles are available in every conceivable material. Each material comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Solid mortars made of stone or granite are very durable and remain neutral in taste. Mortars made of marble, on the other hand, are visually very appealing, but cannot be used for crushing acidic foods. In the following table, we have listed all common materials and described their properties.

Material Properties
Granite Granite is a very robust and durable material that is suitable for preparing all ingredients. It is relatively inexpensive and, with the right care, has a long life. It remains tasteless and does not wear out even with daily use.
Marble Marble is a very high-quality material that has a very noble appearance due to fine inclusions and a slight sheen. It is similarly robust as granite, but also considerably more expensive. However, most marble mortars are not resistant to acids. It is therefore essential to follow the manufacturer's instructions for use.
Ceramic Mortars made of ceramic are particularly suitable for preparing pesto or spice pastes. It is very inexpensive and easy to clean in the dishwasher. You must be careful with very hard ingredients, as hard pounding can cause the mortar to break.
Porcelain porcelain has similar properties to ceramics, but is slightly more finely finished. Many models also have decorative elements on the outside. Here, too, you should avoid rough pounding, otherwise the mortar may break.
Wood Wood is a fairly durable material that is not susceptible to scratches. As a natural product, it usually has a visually appealing wood grain. Many types of wood are rather susceptible to acids and only partially resistant to moisture. You should also never wash wood with soap or washing-up liquid, as it can absorb the bitter taste of soap. It is therefore essential to follow the manufacturer's instructions for use.
Stainless steel Mortars made of stainless steel are not so widely used, but stainless steel offers some advantages over traditional materials. It is very stable and is also suitable for crushing very hard spices. A stainless steel mortar also usually survives falls without damage. After use, you can clean stainless steel with soap or put it in the dishwasher. At the same time, it is quite light and can be stored quickly and easily.

With this wide variety, you are free to choose a mortar according to your personal preferences and budget. If you attach a lot of importance to appearance, it is worth buying a high-quality and more expensive marble mortar. If you are looking for an inexpensive and versatile kitchen aid, a ceramic mortar is a good choice.

Size and weight

Size and weight are also important buying factors. Most mortars made of stone or comparable materials have a high weight. Such solid mortars and pestles with a higher weight help you to crush particularly hard ingredients (e.g. nuts or salt). Mortars with a wider circumference also hold a larger volume. This is practical because the actual volume of fresh spices and herbs is often underestimated.

Mortars made of lighter materials, such as stainless steel, on the other hand, are more manageable. This is especially useful if you have to move and store your mortar frequently. If you want to take mortars with you when you travel, compact models made of lightweight materials are also a good choice.

Surface finish

The texture of the inside surface of a mortar determines which ingredients can be ground. In general, a rough inner surface is good for dry ingredients, a smooth surface is better for moist ingredients. Since mortars are available on the market with both rough and smooth inner surfaces, you should pay attention to this purchase criterion depending on the intended use.

  • Rough surface: Mortars with a rough surface are suitable for finely grinding seeds, grains and other dry spices. The roughened inner surface makes crushing easier, so you don't have to use as much force. Wet ingredients, such as garlic or fresh herbs, cannot be processed well, however, as they can get stuck in the fine grooves.
  • Smooth surface: Mortars with smoothly polished or glazed inner surfaces are particularly suitable for processing moist ingredients. You can also add liquids such as water, oil or vinegar and prepare creamy sauces. Dry spices can also be crushed, but you have to use a little more force.

Resistance to acid

Not every material is suitable for processing acidic ingredients. Acids can attack the surface of such materials and, in the worst case, release harmful substances into your food. With the following materials, you should avoid acidic foods as a matter of principle:

  • Marble
  • Wood
  • Untreated metal

However, there are exceptions. Some manufacturers treat the surface of these critical materials with special agents that protect them from acids. Therefore, you should generally follow the manufacturer's instructions and use your mortar accordingly.

Very acidic foods include vinegar, lemons and other citrus fruits. Many fruit juices and alcohol also have a high acid content.

Mortars: frequently asked questions and answers

We have collected and answered the most frequently asked questions about mortars on the web for you.

What is a mortar and what do I need it for?

Mortars are grating bowls made of sturdy materials in which ingredients are crushed, ground and powdered with the help of a pestle or pestle. You can use them to grind spices and make your own spice mixtures. If you add oil or vinegar, you can prepare aromatic curry or spice pastes.

Fresh ingredients and herbs, such as garlic or ginger, can also be processed with it. The essential oils and aromatic substances develop particularly well when crushed by hand. In contrast to electric blenders, there is no heat that can weaken the flavour.

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Archaeological findings show that mortars were already used in the Stone Age around 35,000 BC. Even today, they are still a practical tool in the kitchen.
(Image source: Katherine Hanlon / Unsplash)

Mortars are also used in pharmacy for the production of medicines or in medical care for crushing medicines. Pharmacists usually use so-called "fantashells", thin-walled mortars made of melamine resin, glass or porcelain, to make ointments, gels and creams. Since these fantas bowls have different quality requirements than mortars for kitchens, you can find such special models in specialised shops for pharmacy and laboratory supplies.

Did you know that a type of cannon is named after this popular kitchen tool? In military jargon, a mortar is a gun that can shoot particles at a steep angle. The name is derived from the shape of the cannon barrel and mortar butt, which resemble mortars and pistels in appearance.

What types of mortar are there?

Although the basic principle of a mortar always remains the same, some types can be distinguished.

  • Spice mortars: Spice mortars are the well-known standard models that can be used universally in the kitchen. Mortars and pestles are usually very solid and heavy, so you have to use less force when crushing.
  • Grating bowls: Grating bowls are similar to spice mortars, but have a rough inner surface. This makes them particularly suitable for pulverising dry and brittle ingredients.
  • Fanta bowl: Fanta bowls have thinner walls and are usually made of melamine resin, stainless steel or glass. Pharmacists use them to make ointments, creams and gels, and to crush medicines.

Sellers of kitchen mortars often use these different terms interchangeably. When choosing your new mortar, you should therefore rather stick to the buying criteria that we have already presented earlier in the guide.

What does a mortar cost?

Depending on the material, the price of a mortar can vary greatly. The following table shows all common materials and their price ranges.

Material Price range
Granite 15 - 40 €
Marble 25 - 100 €
Ceramics 5 - 30 €
Porcelain 5 - 30 €
Wood 10 - 45 €
Stainless steel 10 - 40 €

Since even inexpensive models, e.g. made of ceramic, are very robust and versatile, you will find a suitable mortar for every budget. However, if you attach importance to appearance, you can invest in high-quality materials. A fine mortar made of first-class Carrara marble can be a real eye-catcher in your kitchen.

Marble mortars are generally very susceptible to acids. It is essential to pay attention to this and to appropriate care so that you do not ruin your high-quality specimen!

What do I grind in a mortar?

As already mentioned, mortars are suitable for crushing dry and also moist / fresh ingredients. Before buying, however, be sure to look at the quality features we have defined so that you find the right model for your purposes.

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Freshly ground pepper is much more aromatic than pre-ground pepper. It is therefore worth buying whole peppercorns and then grinding them fresh with a mortar.
(Image source: Sonja Punz / Unsplash)

In the following section, we have collected an overview of what exactly you can crush in a mortar.

Dry ingredients:

  • Brittle spices
  • Dried herbs
  • Salt and peppercorns
  • Seeds, grains and nuts (e.g. linseed)
  • Medicine (pills and tablets for pets)

Wet ingredients:

  • Fresh herbs (e.g. basil, parsley, coriander)
  • Garlic
  • Chillies
  • Ginger
  • Lemons and limes for cocktails

When using moist ingredients, make sure that the material is suitable and clean the mortar thoroughly after use. This will prevent residues from sticking. This will prolong the life of your mortar.

What recipes can I prepare in the mortar?

Besides their use in the pharmacy, mortars are mainly used in the kitchen. You can use them not only to pulverise spices, but also to prepare delicious dips or sauces with several ingredients. Examples of such complex recipes are:

  • Spice mixtures
  • Curry pastes
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Guacamole
  • Italian pesto

On the internet you can find some more recipe inspirations for your mortar. There are no limits to your creativity. To begin with, you can change the ingredients of the basic pesto recipe and adapt it to your own taste. Or you can mix your favourite herbs, spices and oils directly into aromatic sauces.

How do I clean and care for a mortar?

With the right care, you can use your mortar for a lifetime. Cleaning is also very uncomplicated. You should always follow the following cleaning and care tips:

  • Before using the mortar for the first time, wipe it with water and let it dry completely. Avoid using washing-up liquid or soap. It can be absorbed by the mortar, which could lead to an unpleasant taste.
  • If you only use your mortar to crush dry ingredients, simply wipe the inside surface of the mortar with a kitchen towel.
  • To gently remove unwanted odours, a household remedy helps: simply pound commercial rice in the mortar. This will neutralise the accumulated aromas.
  • Some mortars can also be cleaned in the dishwasher. However, pay attention to the manufacturer's instructions for use, as not every material is dishwasher-safe.

Conclusion

A mortar is a very versatile tool and should therefore not be missing in any kitchen. Crushing by hand brings out the flavours of the ingredients particularly well. It's perfect for dips and sauces for your next party. The constant grinding and grating also has something meditative about it. When buying a grinder, pay particular attention to the material, as not every material is universally suitable for preparing all ingredients.

Mortars made of ceramic are suitable for beginners, as they are very easy to clean. However, if you follow the buying tips in this guide, you will soon have the perfect mortar model in your kitchen. We hope you have fun trying out new recipes!

Photo source: 123rf.com / Mykola Lunov

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