The mortar and pestle are ancient tools that no modern kitchen should be without - they're handy for everything from cracking peppercorns and bruising herbs to making pesto. We test a variety of materials and sizes to find our favourites.
Best bits: Handy lip for pouring, a bulbous pestle and coarse surface areas for efficient grinding.
Comments: This is a well thought out piece of kit that powders spices, pulverizes garlic and bruises herbs efficiently. Light marking did occur with use but the exterior surface, with its polished finish, retained a smart appearance. The mortar is 11cm in diameter and the walls are not thick like many, meaning capacity is good for the size, plus high sides stop ingredients from flying out.
Buy from Waitrose
Best... bargain buy
Best bits: Exceptional price point, plus the heavy-duty material does a lot of the hard work for you.
This solid, hand-carved mortar and pestle is a real bargain – elsewhere you'd be looking to pay three times the price for it. It's a little on the smaller side but excels at the full range of tasks, from mashing delicate herbs to grinding stubborn peppercorns. The bowls deeply sloped shape keeps ingredients in the centre, so you're not chasing them around with the pestle.
Buy from Dunelm Mill
Best bits: Comes in a range of attractive colours and is easy to clean.
Prettiness aside, this is a practical set. Being made of stoneware, it is easy to clean (although brightly coloured food does stain the cream interior slightly), flavours are not retained and there is the added bonus of it being dishwasher safe. Do bear in mind that it is stoneware though so not as tough as granite. Whilst it made light work of crushing my pistachios I wouldn't want to risk it with something really tough like long pepper. It's brilliant at bruising herbs though as the size means you can crush a whole bunch of mint at a time.
Buy from Amara
Best... for small quantities
Best bits: Innovative and mess-proof design.
A really clever design and space saving too. It has two separate, unglazed mortar bowls - one large (10cm in diameter) for ingredients such as bay leaves and peppercorns, and a small one (5cm in diameter) on the reverse for doing small batches and small ingredients such as cumin. This really helps to avoid mixing flavours and reduces clean up times. The pestle has a lovely grooved design and feel. The polished wooden surface minimises flavour absorption, and it cleans up a treat in the dishwasher.
Buy from Salt and Spice
Best... original design
Best bits: Great value and smart design.
This mortar and pestle replicates the design of what you would find in an expensive flat mortar and ‘spear’ pestle with a smaller price tag. The idea is that you have a bigger pestle that fits snugly into the contour of the mortar to give a larger grinding surface. You use your palm to rotate the pestle around rather than pounding. For this reason it can handle no more than a couple of teaspoons or so of spices or a clove of garlic, but because it's so fast (four or five rotations and you're done) this wasn't an issue. The pestle has added grooves underneath, which help to capture spices and hold them in place.
£27.99, from Uutensil
Reviewed by Sarah Sysum and Caroline Hire.
These days, electric spice grinders and food processors often take the place of a mortar and pestle, and that’s a pity, because after testing an assortment I'm convinced that a good set can perform as well at many tasks. They (can be) considerably cheaper than buying an electric grinder and are much easier to clean as well.
What should I buy?
Consider what you use your pestle and mortar for. Do you need a generous-sized bowl for large quantities of pastes? Or something smaller just to crush spices? And if you are using it a lot, consider something that would look good out on the kitchen worktop too.
What we looked for
Comfortable to hold. I wanted designs that made good contact with the mortar. The mortar is best with a deep well, so you don’t scatter the contents, and with an indentation in the base, giving you maximum grinding power.
Material They come in marble, frosted glass, cast-iron and wood to name but a few. I wanted material that was easy to clean and didn't absorb flavours
Stability Spices are tough, and take a little effort to grind. My top choices didn't wobble, stayed flat and most importantly didn't bunny hop over the work surface!
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This review was last updated in June 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you grind your spices? We'd love to hear whether you opt for a trusty pestle & mortar or if a snazzy modern gadget helps you along the way...