Why You Need A Mortar And Pestle
Maybe you've seen these elegant little tools in kitchen stores and thought, "They look nice, but what can they do that a bowl and a spoon can't?" The answer: a lot. If you're ready to take your culinary skills to the next level, a mortar and pestle should be among the next items you add to your cooking arsenal. First of all, if you think a knife can stand in the place of a pestle, that's simply not true. Pestles crush up food, which releases their essential oils — special liquids extracted from plants that offer many benefits ranging from food flavoring to food preservation. That's something a knife cannot do. There's a reason that a sauce with garlic that's been crushed in a mortar and pestle is so much more flavorful than one with garlic that's simply been diced up. Using a mortar and pestle, you can open up the rigid structure of various plants, exposing the flavors trapped inside. Cutting them cleanly with knives just won't do that.
If you think you can just use a food processor to get the same effect, keep in mind that the rapidly-moving blades of this appliance create heat, which can dilute some of the flavors of plants. Only a mortar and pestle is the perfect balance of strong and gentle to release a plant's flavor, without destroying it. Second, keep in mind that sometimes you only need the tiniest portion of an ingredient, like half a tablespoon of crushed pepper. Sticking this in a food processor just isn't practical. You could put a small about of spices into a spice grinder, but again, that appliance will cut up rather than mash up your ingredients, failing to release those tasty essential oils.
Finally, you need a mortar and pestle because trying to fasten a makeshift one out of mixing bowls and spoons will destroy your bowls, spoons, or both. Mortars are heavy duty, typically made of granite, marble, or other hefty materials that can withstand the pressure you need to apply to mash up ingredients.
The Various Mortar And Pestles And Their Jobs
Mortars and pestles can be made from various materials. We're going to discuss each one and the jobs for which they're best suited. If your newest obsession is your pasta maker, you should reach for a set made from ceramic. They're ideal for crushing nuts, garlic, and herbs, so they can make a delicious pesto sauce. Those who favor slightly spicier cuisine, like Thai or Indian food, might want a granite mortar and pestle. The bumpy, irregular surface of this type is perfect for breaking up small ingredients with stubborn structures, such as dried chili peppers. If you place longer ingredients, like lemongrass or leaves, in a granite mortar, gently rolling your pestle across these and pushing them into the bumpy surface of the mortar releases their flavor beautifully.
Olive wood mortars serve a unique purpose that is perfect for some chefs, and not so for others. Because the material holds onto the flavors of the foods you put in it, this type of mortar and pestle should only be used for one type of cuisine that has a consistent base ingredient. For example, you could use it to make a lot of garlic-based foods. It will hold onto that garlic flavor, enhancing the taste of future recipes. Of course, you wouldn't want to make some dessert item in an olive wood mortar that you've previously used for garlic-based sauces.
If you want a more versatile mortar and pestle that you can use to make all sorts of cuisine, opt for a marble set. Marble won't hold onto flavors, so you can use it for both savory foods and desserts, as long as you wash it well. Marble sets also look quite elegant. If you mash a lot of hard ingredients, you'll want the strength of a cast iron mortar. There's almost nothing this material can't stand up to. If you're all about your sushi making kit right now, you'll enjoy a mortar and pestle made from Japanese earthenware. These are ideal for crushing many of the things you may roll up in your rice and seaweed, like fish and ginger. They're also good for mashing tofu and pulverizing seeds.
The History Of Mortars And Pestles
When you use a mortar and pestle, you're connecting with thousands of years of culinary culture around the world. Historians have found versions of these tools dating back to 35000 B.C.E. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the mortar and pestle is that they've barely changed during all of that time. The server mashing up guacamole in a mortar and pestle table-side at your favorite Mexican restaurant is using one almost identical to the molcajetes used in Mexico’s Tehuacan Valley nearly 6,000 years ago. However, while the appearance and composition of these tools have barely changed, their uses have.
Today, chefs mainly use mortars and pestles to grind spices, herbs, and nuts. But if the Book of Exodus is to be believed, Israelites used mortars and pestles to grind their manna around the 6th century B.C.E. One Egyptian medical text dating back to 1550 B.C.E describes doctors using mortars and pestles to make tincture and ointments, and there is evidence that shows Italian apothecaries used them in the 14th and 15th centuries C.E.
Some historians would say that mortar and pestles played a larger role in the medicinal community than the culinary world for the majority of their existence. In fact, they've still left their mark, since you'll see the image of a mortar and pestle on major pharmacies like Walgreens. Of course, modern pharmacists aren't grinding your prescription up in a mortar and pestle; the image is merely symbolic at this point.