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May 09, 2023 8 min read


If you've ever used a mortar and pestle in your kitchen, you know that it's a great tool for grinding and blending spices, herbs, and other ingredients. But have you ever wondered what the bowl in a mortar and pestle is called? Is it a mortar, a pestle, or something else entirely?

In this blog, we'll dive into the history and terminology of the mortar and pestle and explore the various names and uses of this essential kitchen tool. So, if you're curious about the proper terminology for this handy kitchen gadget, read on!


History of the Mortar and Pestle


old mortar and pestle
Credit: Envato Elements/ 5PH


The mortar and pestle is one of the oldest kitchen tools in the world. It has been used for centuries in cultures all over the globe, from ancient Egypt to modern-day Mexico. The earliest known mortars and pestles date back to the Stone Age, where they were used for crushing and grinding grains and other foodstuffs. Over time, the mortar and pestle evolved into a more sophisticated tool. In ancient Egypt, for example, the mortar and pestle was made from stone and used to grind herbs for medicinal purposes. In Greece and Rome, the mortar and pestle was used to make wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Today, the mortar and pestle is still a popular kitchen tool used in many cultures around the world. It's especially popular in Asian cuisine, where it's used to grind spices for curries and other dishes.


What Is the Proper Name for the Bowl Used in a Mortar and Pestle?


wooden bowls with herbs

Credit: Envato Elements/ christening


So what exactly is the bowl called in a mortar and pestle? The answer to this question is somewhat complicated, as the terminology can vary depending on the culture and language.

In English, the bowl of a mortar and pestle is simply called the mortar. The word "mortar" comes from the Latin word mortarium, which means "receptacle for pounding." In other languages, the terminology can be a bit different. In Spanish, for example, the bowl is called the "mortero," while the pestle is called the "mano." In French, the bowl is called the "mortier," while the pestle is called the "pilon." In Italian, the bowl is called the "mortaio," while the pestle is called the "pestello."


Different Types of Mortar and Pestles


granite mortar and pestle

Credit: Envato Elements/ Shaiith


Now that you know what the bowl in a mortar and pestle is called, here are the different types of mortar and pestles used in different cultures and regions:


1) Suribachi


Suribachi is a traditional Japanese mortar and pestle that is typically made of either earthenware or ceramic. What sets it apart from other mortars and pestles is the unique ridged surface inside the bowl, which helps to crush and grind ingredients with incredible speed and efficiency. These ridges not only create a natural grip for better control but also reduce the effort required to break down ingredients, making the grinding process effortless. 

Suribachi is commonly used to grind ingredients such as sesame seeds, spices, and herbs in Japanese cuisine. Furthermore, due to the material it is made from, it is renowned for its durability and ability to withstand high temperatures, making it an excellent tool for preparing dishes that require heat, such as curry pastes.


2) Molcajete


A Molcajete is a Mexican mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock, often basalt or granite. This sturdy kitchen utensil is known for its durability and weight. This type of mortar and pestle is often used to grind and crush an array of ingredients like garlic, chili peppers, tomatoes, and spices to produce a rich and flavorful paste that forms the base of many Mexican dishes, including salsa, guacamole, and mole sauce. The rough surface of the molcajete plays a vital role in breaking down the tough ingredients, allowing for the release of their distinct flavors and aromas.

Beyond its practical uses, Molcajetes also holds cultural significance as a symbol of Mexican heritage and tradition. It has been used for centuries, passed down from generation to generation, and remains a staple in many Mexican households and restaurants.


3) Thai Granite Mortar and Pestle


The Thai granite mortar and pestle is a kitchen tool that has been used in Thai cuisine for centuries. It is made of solid granite, making it a heavy-duty and durable option for grinding and pounding ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, and chili peppers. Unlike other types of mortar and pestles, this mortar and pestle is typically larger in size, which allows for more efficient grinding. Additionally, it has a deeper bowl that can hold a larger quantity of ingredients, making it ideal for grinding herbs and spices in bulk.

The rough surface of the Thai granite interior of the mortar is designed to make grinding ingredients into a fine paste an effortless task. This feature allows the flavors to blend seamlessly, resulting in a more flavorful dish. Additionally, the granite material is non-porous, meaning that it does not absorb the oils or flavors of the ingredients used in the grinding process. This makes it an ideal tool for grinding ingredients that have a strong aroma or flavor.


4) Okhli


Okhli is a traditional mortar and pestle used in Indian cuisine for grinding and pounding spices, herbs, and other ingredients. Typically made of stone or marble, this mortar and pestle set is widely used in households and restaurants across the Indian subcontinent. The mortar, or Okhli, has a wide and shallow bowl, providing ample space for the ingredients to be ground to a fine paste. It is usually accompanied by a long, cylindrical pestle known as a batta, which is used to pound the ingredients against the mortar's interior.

Okhlis are commonly used for making chutneys and sauces, as well as grinding spices and herbs for use in curries and other dishes. The shallow bowl design allows for easy and efficient grinding, while the heavy weight of the stone or marble provides stability during use. In addition to its functional benefits, an Okhli is also a beautiful and traditional addition to any kitchen. It adds a touch of culture and heritage to the cooking process and can serve as a decorative item when not in use.


5) Stone Mortar and Pestle


Stone mortar and pestle sets are the most common type of mortar and pestles found around the world. They are typically crafted from natural stone materials such as marble, basalt, and granite, which provide them with their characteristic strength. These tools are ideal for grinding a wide range of ingredients, including spices, herbs, grains, and seeds. The rough surface of the stone offers excellent traction for crushing and grinding, making the process efficient and effortless. 

Stone mortar and pestles have a long history dating back to ancient Egypt and Rome, and they continue to be a staple in modern kitchens. One of the most notable benefits of using these tools is their ability to preserve the flavor of ingredients. Additionally, they produce consistent and even grinds, making them an essential tool for any cook or chef.


6) Wooden Mortar and Pestle


Wooden mortars and pestles are popular in countries like Thailand and Mexico, where they are used to crush spices and herbs. These tools are often carved from hardwoods like teak, olive, or acacia, which gives them a lightweight and easy-to-handle feel. While not as durable as their stone counterparts, wooden mortars and pestles offer a gentler grinding action, which is ideal for soft or delicate ingredients.

One of the significant advantages of using a wooden mortar and pestle is that they are less likely to scratch or damage delicate surfaces such as glass or ceramic countertops. In addition, the wood used to make these tools provides a natural, non-reactive surface that does not affect the taste or quality of the ingredients being ground.


7) Ceramic Mortar and Pestle


Ceramic mortars and pestles are incredibly popular in Asian cultures, especially in countries like China and Japan, where they are widely used for grinding herbs, spices, and dried fruits. These kitchen tools are crafted from glazed or unglazed ceramics and feature a smooth, non-porous surface that is easy to clean and prevents the absorption of flavors and odors.

What sets ceramic mortars and pestles apart is their intricate and elegant designs, which reflect the cultural heritage and artistic traditions of their respective regions. While not as durable as stone or wooden sets, they offer a unique balance of performance and aesthetics that are highly valued in many Asian kitchens.


8) Brass Mortar and Pestle


Brass mortars and pestles have a rich and enduring history in Indian and Middle Eastern cultures, where they are highly valued for grinding a variety of ingredients such as spices, herbs, and grains. These kitchen tools are crafted from durable brass material and feature intricate and eye-catching designs that showcase the rich cultural heritage of these regions.

In addition to maintaining a consistent grinding temperature and preserving the flavors and aromas of the ingredients, what sets brass mortar and pestle sets apart is their versatility. They can effectively grind a wide range of ingredients to varying degrees of fineness, from fine to coarse, making them an indispensable tool in the kitchen. 


The Best Ways to Use a Mortar and Pestle


mortar and pestle with herbs

Credit: Envato Elements/ Artem_ka2


If you're curious about how to make the most of your mortar and pestle set, here are some of the top ways you can use this valuable kitchen tool:


1) Use It to Grind Spices


Grinding your own spices can make a world of difference in the taste of your dishes. When you use a mortar and pestle to grind whole spices such as cumin, coriander, and peppercorns, you release the essential oils and flavors trapped within, leading to a more potent aroma and richer taste. This process adds a unique touch to your dishes, making them even more delicious and memorable. 


2) Use It to Crush Herbs


A mortar and pestle is perfect for crushing fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro. Opting for this method over pre-packaged or dried herbs helps preserve more of their natural properties. This is because the gentle crushing action of the mortar and pestle doesn't damage the delicate essential oils within the herbs.


3) Use It to Make Pastes and Sauces


A mortar and pestle can be used to make pastes and sauces, such as pesto, curry paste, and guacamole. By grinding and crushing the ingredients together, the flavors and textures are blended together to create a smooth and delicious paste or sauce. This traditional technique adds an authentic, homemade taste to your dishes, setting them apart from those that rely upon store-bought alternatives. 


4) Use It to Grind Grains


If you want to make your own flour from grains like rice, wheat, and corn, a mortar and pestle can be a handy tool to have. By grinding the grains together, you can create your own freshly ground flour that will add a unique texture and flavor to traditional dishes like tortillas and chapatis.


5) Use It to Make Salad Dressings


Creating your own salad dressings is a great way to add a personalized touch to your salads, and a mortar and pestle can be a useful tool to achieve this. By crushing and grinding fresh herbs and garlic, and blending in vinegar and oil, you can make flavorful vinaigrettes that are both delicious and nutritious.


6) Use It to Make Natural Remedies


Beyond the kitchen, a mortar and pestle can be a valuable tool in crafting natural remedies and medicines. Grinding herbs and other natural ingredients allows you to create pastes, powders, and tinctures for treating various health concerns, such as sore throat, cough, and digestive issues. This method offers a more holistic and personalized approach to health and wellness, as you can tailor your remedies to suit your specific needs.




The mortar and pestle is an ancient tool that has stood the test of time and remains a versatile and essential kitchen tool. Regardless of the name it goes by in different cultures, it remains an indispensable tool for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

If you're looking for a top-quality mortar and pestle set, look no further than the Pepe Nero granite mortar and pestle. Crafted from durable, long-lasting granite, this set can withstand even the toughest ingredients. With its sleek and stylish design, the Pepe Nero granite mortar and pestle set is a must-have for any kitchen, whether you're a professional chef or a home cook. Check us out today.

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