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May 14, 2023 6 min read


If you've ever found yourself standing in a kitchen, staring at a molcajete and a mortar and pestle, and wondering how they differ, you're not alone. While both are popular tools for grinding and crushing ingredients, there are some key differences between them.

In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at molcajetes and mortars and pestles and explore what makes them unique. We'll cover everything from the materials they're made of to the dishes they're best suited for. By the end of this article, you'll be equipped with the knowledge you need to choose the right tool for your kitchen needs.


What Is a Mortar and Pestle?


 wooden mortar and pestle with herbs

Credit: Envato Elements/ evgrafovasa


Mortar and pestles are kitchen tools consisting of a bowl-shaped mortar and a club-shaped pestle. These tools are used for grinding, crushing, or mixing ingredients, making them ideal for preparing a wide range of recipes. The mortar serves as a sturdy vessel for holding ingredients, while the pestle is used to apply pressure and break down the ingredients to achieve the desired consistency.

Mortar and pestles have a rich history that dates back to ancient times. Archaeological sites have unearthed evidence of mortars and pestles that date as far back as 35,000 BC. The earliest mortars were made of stone, and their design has remained relatively unchanged throughout history. Nowadays, mortar and pestles are made from various materials, including stone, ceramic, metal, and wood, with the choice of material often depending on the intended use of the tool.


What Is a Molcajete?



molcajete with guacamole
Credit: Envato Elements/ joshua_resnick


A molcajete is a centuries-old cooking tool that has been a staple in Mexican kitchens since pre-Hispanic times. It is primarily used for grinding spices, preparing salsas, and making guacamole, among other culinary purposes. 

The molcajete is made from a single piece of volcanic rock, usually from the basalt family, and has a bowl-shaped mortar that is paired with a pestle, known as a tejolote, which is also made of volcanic rock. The term "molcajete" is derived from the Spanish word "mortero," meaning "mortar." This traditional kitchen utensil not only serves a practical purpose but also represents the rich cultural heritage of Mexico and its vibrant cuisine.


Molcajetes vs Mortars and Pestles: What's the Difference?



mortar and pestle of tomato salsa
Credit: Envato Elements/ joshua_resnick


Now that you know what are molcajetes and mortar and pestles, here is the difference between the two tools:


1) Material


One of the main differences between molcajetes and mortar and pestles is the material they are made from. Mortar and pestles can be made from a variety of materials, including stone, ceramic, and metal. Some modern versions are even made of plastic or glass. The material used will depend on the intended use of the mortar and pestle, as well as personal preference.

Molcajetes, on the other hand, are made exclusively from volcanic rock. This rock is usually from the basalt family, which is a type of volcanic rock that is dense, hard, and non-porous. The porous nature of the rock allows it to absorb flavors and aromas, which can enhance the taste of the food being prepared in the molcajete.


2) Design and Texture


Molcajetes and mortar and pestles may appear similar in design and texture, but they do have notable differences. Molcajetes are usually wide and shallow with a round mouth and three short legs. They also have a rougher surface, which is ideal for grinding and crushing spices and other tougher ingredients. 

On the other hand, mortars and pestles are generally narrower and deeper than molcajetes, lack legs, and come in various shapes, with the most common being round and oval. Their surface is smoother than that of molcajetes, making them better suited for grinding and crushing softer ingredients like herbs and garlic. The smooth surface also makes cleaning mortar and pestles easier, as there are no grooves or rough spots for food to get stuck in.


3) Uses


Both molcajetes and mortar and pestles are used for grinding and crushing ingredients, but they have different applications. The molcajete is commonly used in Mexican cuisine to make salsas, guacamole, and other sauces. The rough surface of this tool helps to grind ingredients into a paste, which is essential for making these types of dishes.

Mortar and pestles, on the other hand, are used for a wide range of applications. They are commonly used in Indian and Thai cuisine to grind spices, such as cumin, coriander, and cardamom. They are also used to crush garlic and other ingredients for marinades and rubs.


4) Flavor and Taste


Apart from the physical differences, there is also a difference in the flavor and taste that molcajetes and mortar and pestles impart to the ingredients being ground. Molcajetes, being crafted from volcanic rock, are believed to add a unique and earthy flavor to the ingredients. This flavor is highly sought after by Mexican cooks and is considered an essential component of traditional Mexican cuisine.

In contrast, mortar and pestles typically do not add any flavor to the ingredients being ground, although the material used to make them can have an impact on taste. For instance, wooden mortar and pestles can add a woody flavor to the ingredients, while metal ones can give a metallic taste.


Factors to Consider When Deciding Between a Mortar and Pestle and a Molcajete


 wooden mortar and pestle with herbs

Credit: Envato Elements/ prosto_juli


Before making a purchase, here are some factors to consider before making a choice between a molcajete and a mortar and pestle:


1) Price


A molcajete, being made of volcanic rock, can be more expensive than mortar and pestles, especially if it is handcrafted and imported from Mexico. The unique design and cultural significance make them a popular choice for collectors and those who appreciate traditional Mexican cuisine.

Mortars and pestles, on the other hand, are available at a range of prices, depending on the material and design. Stone, ceramic, and metal mortar and pestles can be purchased at affordable prices, while wooden models may be more expensive. The affordability of mortar and pestles makes them a popular choice for those on a budget.


2) Durability


The molcajete is incredibly durable and can last for decades or even centuries with proper care. The rough surface of the molcajete also makes it less likely to crack or chip compared to other materials.

Mortar and pestles, on the other hand, can vary in durability depending on the material used. Stone and ceramic models are durable and can last for many years with proper care, while wooden and metal models may require more frequent replacement.


3) Ease of Use


While the molcajete has its advantages, its large size can make it difficult for some people to use, especially those with weaker grip strength. Additionally, its rough surface can make it difficult to clean thoroughly. Mortars and pestles, on the other hand, are generally easier to use, with a comfortable grip and a smooth surface that is simple to clean.


4) Maintenance


The molcajete requires a bit more maintenance than a mortar and pestle, as it needs to be seasoned and properly cared for to keep it in good condition. This involves soaking the molcajete in water for several hours, then grinding raw rice in it to remove any impurities. 

Mortars and pestles, on the other hand, are much easier to maintain and can simply be washed with soap and water after use. Some metal or wooden models may need to be oiled to prevent cracking or warping, but this is usually a simple process.


Which One Should You Choose?



wooden mortar and pestle
Credit: Envato Elements/ klenova


If you are looking for a tool that can handle large quantities of ingredients and imparts a unique, earthy flavor, then a molcajete may be the better choice. However, if you are looking for a tool that is easier to clean and maintain, and that is better suited for grinding small quantities of delicate ingredients, then a mortar and pestle may be the better choice.

Additionally, if you are new to cooking and have never used either of these tools before, a mortar and pestle might be the better choice to start with. However, it's important to note that a mortar and pestle lack legs, which can make it difficult to keep stable on your countertop. To avoid any mishaps, consider using a mat or placing a towel underneath the mortar to keep it from slipping while you work.




Both the molcajete and the mortar and pestle are essential kitchen tools that have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. When choosing between the two, it is important to consider factors such as price, durability, and your specific needs and preferences. Whether you are a seasoned cook or just starting out in the kitchen, having one or both of these tools in your kitchen will make grinding and crushing ingredients a breeze.

If you are looking for a durable and versatile mortar and pestle, consider the Pepe Nero Granite Mortar and Pestle. Crafted from high-quality granite, this tool is built to last and can handle even the toughest of ingredients. Its smooth surface and unique design make it both easy to use and easy to clean, while its compact size makes for convenient storage. Whether you're grinding spices, crushing herbs, or making your own sauces and pastes, the Pepe Nero Granite Mortar and Pestle is the perfect addition to your kitchen. Shop with us today.

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