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Mortar and Pestle – The History of the Mortar and Pestle Explained

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and Pestle

A mortar is a hard bowl or cup made of a variety of materials, depending on use and where in the world you find it. It can be either of a stone, marble, bamboo, steal, wooden etc. A pestle is a long, club-like tool used to squish and mash things down inside of the mortar.

The word “Mortar” comes from the Latin word “Mortarium,” which can be loosely translated as “place for pounding.” The word “Pestle” comes from the classical Latin word “Pistillum” meaning “pounder”.

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History of Mortar and Pestle

Egyptians & Greek

The mortar and pestle are a set of tools that have been around for centuries, with evidence of this set being used all the way back in 35,000 BC. The mortar and pestle were used in Egypt as both medical and culinary tools. The Greeks used a mortar and pestle that was made from stone and more bowl-like than cup-like, which is the more common look of today’s mortar.

Bronze Mortar & Pestle – 14th & 16th Century

Around the 14th century, bronze became the material of choice for creating these tools. By the 16th century, mortars were being decorated with handles, knobs, or sometimes even spouts for easy pouring. They were occasionally decorated with artwork, too. Both the mortar and pestle continued to be made of bronze, but sometimes they were made of wood or stone. Bronze was a popular choice through the middle ages and the Renaissance period, though with continued use the bronze would turn dark brownish green and become unsuitable for use.

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Porcelain Mortar & Pestle – 17th Century

In the late 1700s, porcelain (ceramic material) mortar and pestles became available, and quickly took over a large portion of the market since they were acid-resistant and easy to clean. This type remains popular even today.

Stone and Muller – 18th & 19th Century

The stone and muller was another version of the mortar and pestle. This was popularized by artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a tool to blend and mix paints. The stone and muller were two flat pieces that were rubbed together, which differs slightly from the mortar and pestle, although they are used for the same reason – to pulverize things.

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Sil Batta (Ammikallu)

The sil batta is the mortar and pestle, similar to the stone and muller, that has been used throughout time in Indian cooking. The sil is a flat bed made of stone that the batta can be rolled across for the grinding process. The sil batta is used for making mostly wet spice pastes and for making masalas, or spice blends.

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Why do you Use ?

Traditionally the mortar and pestle were used in both food and medical applications, for grinding grain, spices, or medicines. Today, many people use a mortar and pestle in their home for grinding spices. There is careful consideration for what kind of mortar and pestle you want to use, since you want to ensure that they are not worn away by the action of grinding or mixing.

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Some people prefer to use a hand powered mortar and pestle instead of an automatic grinder because they believe this helps release the herbs and spices aromatics better. There is also the belief that anything ground down with a mortar and pestle will taste better. Some people use it simply to continue the tradition from times past. Whatever your reason, get your hands on one of the world’s oldest tools and start grinding.

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