Mortars and pestles have been used in cooking up to the present day: they are frequently also associated with the profession of pharmacy due to their historical use in preparing medicines.
Earliest found Mortars and pestles date back to around 35,000 years B.C. The antiquity of these tools is well documented in early writing, such as the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus of 1550 BCE (the oldest preserved piece of medical literature) and the Old Testament.
The Japanese call it a Suribachi (also a volcanic bowl at Iwo Jima) and Suricogi (wood pestle). The Mexicans call it a Molcajete (seasoning bowl) and tejolote (from stone doll) for the pestle. It seems they originated the design, over 5,000 years ago, while the mortar and pestle appeared in Europe a mere 500 or so years ago.
Good Mortar and Pestle – making materials must be hard enough to crush the substance rather than be worn away by it. They cannot be too brittle either, or they will break during the pounding and grinding. The material should also be cohesive, so that small bits of the Mortar or Pestle do not get mixed in with the ingredients. Smooth and non-porous materials are chosen that will not absorb or trap the substances being ground.
Rough ceramic Mortar and Pestle sets can be used to reduce substances to very fine powders, but stain easily and are brittle.
Porcelain Mortars are sometimes conditioned for use by grinding some sand to give them a rougher surface which helps to reduce the particle size.
Other materials used include marble, stone, wood (highly absorbent), bamboo, iron, steel, brass and basalt.
Large Mortars and Pestles are commonly used in third-world countries to husk and dehull grain. These are usually made of wood, and operated by one or more people.
How to use a Mortar and Pestle:
– Place the food in the Mortar (bowl) in small quantities
– Use some downward pressure over the food with the pestle (pounder)
– With hard foodstuffs, like peppercorns and even pills, move the pestle back and forth over it with some pressure until it breaks up
– Turn the Pestle in a circular motion around the Mortar, maneuvering it back and forth with a bit of pressure over still unbroken pieces.