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How to Make a Mortar and Pestle

Using a mortar and pestle is an excellent way to make food richer and more flavorful by pounding ingredients like garlic to lush pastes and grinding spices to evoke deep-seated flavors. 

And you don’t have to buy one to own one. 

Here’s a guide to help you learn how to make a mortar and pestle

How to Make a Mortar and Pestle

It can be as simple or complex as you like – the effort required depends on the method you choose.

mortar and pestle with herbs

Method #1: Throw One With Ceramic

If you have a potter’s wheel or can get access to one, you can buy some ceramic and throw a mortar and pestle with your own hands.

One of the advantages of making a mortar and pestle this way is that you can size the mortar and pestle yourself. You don’t have to worry about either of the tools being too big or too small for you.

You also don’t have to worry about the mortar and pestle breaking since tools built with ceramic are extremely robust.

There are several guides on the internet that can show you how to make one. Here’s a short video to get a feel for wheel-throwing a mortar and pestle.

Method #2: Fashion One With Stone

If you live close to a beach, look for two sturdy stones the next time you’re there. One stone must be much larger than the other.

You can then use a circular saw to carve out a simple hollow in the bigger stone. Make sure you use a diamond cutting disc to do this.

When the hollow is large enough to fit the smaller stone, smoothen the hollow out.

You can now use the small stone as the pestle. The hollow you carve out in the large stone will make for a perfect mortar.

Method #3: Fabricate One With a Log

In Africa, a mortar and pestle are often fabricated with wood just like wooden bowls and other utensils.

Here’s how you make a large mortar and pestle out of wood:

  • Get a log of non-toxic hardwood (you can use Oak). Make sure the log is seasoned, or the wood will split severely over time.
  • Remove the bark from the log to ensure no pests live in it. If the log has any undulations, round them off using a sharp hatchet.
  • Level off the top and bottom of the log.
  • Get a fire going and light some coal with it. Put the coal in the middle of the log to burn a depression into the log.
  • Use a bellow to keep the coal going.
  • When the process slows down, remove the coal from the log, and scrape out the charred wood in the depression with a stick. 
  • Put the coal back and keep it going with a bellow. 
  • Every time the process slows down, you must scrape out the charred wood and put coal back. 
  • When the depression is the size you want, remove the coal.
  • Make a pestle using a hardwood sapling. Round off the end to make it grinding easy.

The process should take a full day (or a couple of afternoons if you prefer dividing up the process). However, you’ll be able to cook large, incredibly delicious food with a large mortar and pestle.

Method #4: Use a Wood Lathe to Make a Small One

If you own or can arrange access to a wood lathe, you will be able to craft a mortar and pestle with relative ease.

To make a small mortar and pestle with wood:

  • First, scavenge for appropriately-sized pieces of wood. 
  • Set the bigger piece in the wood lathe. 
  • Grab a large wood-turning steel tool, and work the piece of wood into the shape of a mortar. You will need to make a couple of passes with the steel to get the wood to smoothen out and take shape.
  • Chop off the excess from the piece of wood.
  • Reset the wood in the lathe, and use the steel to make a cavity in the center of the wood piece.
  • After the piece of wood is transformed into a smooth-surfaced mortar, pick up the smaller piece of wood.
  • Repeat the process, but this time, you must shape the wood into a pestle using your steel.
  • When both the mortar and pestle are ready, grab some food-safe wood finish, and use a cloth to rub it into the wood.

While making a mortar and pestle this way will take a considerable amount of time and effort, the results will be worth your labor. 

top shot of mortar and pestle with herbs

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There a Way to Grind Spices Without Using a Mortar and Pestle?

While there’s no way to match the outcome of grinding spices and other ingredients with a pestle in a mortar, there is a clever way of grinding spices without a mortar and pestle. Put all of the spices in a Ziploc bag and seal it. Then work the spices into a powder using a rolling pin.

What Material Makes the Best Mortar and Pestle?

Marble undoubtedly makes the best mortars and pestles. Besides being an attractive addition to any kitchen, the abrasive surface of the stone makes it super effective in crushing and grinding ingredients. 

However, since you cannot make a mortar and pestle out of marble without large and sophisticated tools, making one out of stone is your best bet.

Does Food Made With Ingredients Processed From Mortar and Pestle Taste Better?

Crushing and grinding ingredients with a pestle breaks down the cell walls in food far better than a food processor can. In spices and some other ingredients, the grinding process kickstarts enzymatic action, giving dishes you use the ingredients in a flavor boost.

Conclusion

While the tools may be 37000 years old, modern food processors still do not beat the flavors a mortar and pestle extracts from ingredients.

And now that you know a few ways to make your own, you won’t need to spend any money to own one. You can put it together with a meat grinder and other tools you already own.

Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. With inspirations like Alton Brown and Gordon Ramsey, Nathaniel focuses on simple processes to make amazing food.