Last Updated on October 16, 2022
Mortar and pestle sets have been used all around the world for thousands of years for culinary and pharmaceutical purposes. And while we no longer need them to make medical remedies, they remain a must-have for all modern kitchens.
There’s a reason why many chefs and pro cooks collect different mortar and pestle sets made of granite, marble, copper, wood, or stainless steel. Each one of them offers unique benefits that help you create wonders in the kitchen. In this article, we shed light on the differences between the sturdiest of the lot, marble and granite mortar and pestles, so you can get the one that suits your purposes the best.
Why Use a Mortar and Pestle?
A pestle and mortar set is the perfect tool for crushing ingredients to obtain strong flavors and interesting textures for your pastes, spreads, sauces, salsas, and spice mixes. These days we often use blenders to cut ingredients into smaller pieces. But crushing, as opposed to cutting something open with a blade, offers a different taste and texture profile.
By manually bashing your ingredients, you burst open the cell walls and let out the flavor and aroma molecules, enhancing the taste of the final product.
But the flavor and aroma molecules are not the only thing to consider when making a heavenly paste. There’s also the role of texture. Sure, smooth spreads like hummus are perfect as a base for your sandwiches. But usually, the more texture you have in your paste or spread, the more interesting every next bite gets.
You can test it yourself: Make a dipping sauce using a blender and then make the same sauce using a mortar and pestle set. The latter will feel, smell, and taste better.
The Stand Off: Marble vs. Granite Mortar and Pestle
Both granite and marble are sturdy natural stones. Rigid and elegant looking with unique patterns, they’re widely used for making countertops, fireplaces, flooring, walls, or statement pieces, such as a cutting board or a mortar and pestle set.
Even though they are pretty similar at first sight, there are fundamental differences between these two.
Marble Mortar and Pestle
Marble is a metamorphic stone obtained from limestone and dolomite. Over time, sedimentary rocks, formed by the accumulation of certain minerals and organic particles, undergo a chemical change under extreme heat and pressure to form marble. Because the ratio of different minerals can differ, some marbles can form exciting patterns and colors.
Marble mortar and pestles are pretty standard, especially in Mediterranean regions like Spain, Italy, and France. In fact, pesto sauce is traditionally made with a marble mortar.
Marble provides a rigid base for grinding, smashing, and bashing, but it’s not as robust as granite when it comes to durability. If you get a marble mortar with a matching marble pestle, you need to be careful with the stone-on-stone action; if you smash your marble pestle on your mortar too hard, you might crack one of them in half or cause tiny marble particles to chip off and mix into the food.
That’s why marble mortars are often used with wooden pestles. However, while wooden pestles can be helpful when grinding soft ingredients, they are not the best option when you want to grind hard ingredients such as spice seeds.
Resistance to Acidic Foods
Marble is a porous stone that’s not acid resistant. This is not a severe problem if you want a mortar and pestle set to grind spices. But if you want to make sauces and salsas with acidic ingredients like tomatoes and lemon juice, your marble and pestle are destined to stain and darken.
Apart from citrus juices, coffee, tea, wine, and soda are also known to penetrate the stone’s pores, leaving a permanent stain behind. In short, marble is not resistant to acidic foods and can put your aesthetic and culinary preferences at odds with each other.
When you first get your marble mortar and pestle, you need to season or cure it just like you need to season a granite mortar and pestle. Both of the stones have porous surfaces with bits and pieces that can easily chip off. That’s why you need to make sure all the small spurs on the stone’s surface have been smoothed before you use your natural stone — or sometimes a concrete molcajete — mortar and pestle.
For seasoning, grind a handful of rice to powder to sand off the mortar and pestle’s surfaces. Some spices and aromatics such as garlic and black pepper are often added to the mortar to leave a staple scent that’ll enhance future recipes.
You should never put marble kitchen utensils in the dishwasher. It’s easy to think marble can endure whatever a dishwasher does, but you’ll end up with marble powder that’ll most likely stick to other dishes in the machine. And since marble is a porous stone, detergents and heavy soaps can leave permanent residues and scents behind.
Rather than washing your marble mortar and pestle with regular dishes, use tiny amounts of light, non-scented soap to eliminate the bulk of the oily residues. You can use a kitchen brush — or a dedicated old toothbrush — to get rid of the residue stuck in the pores. Then rinse the marble mortar and pestle thoroughly and air dry it before putting it away.
A marble mortar and pestle is a beautiful tool that lets you grind ingredients that are not rock-solid. The stone is rigid but can crack or produce fine dust if you pound too rigorously. But the relative softness of marble also creates delicious sauces and pastes with great texture.
Marble also reacts to acids and while it doesn’t produce toxic pollutants like aluminum, it can suffer severe stains. This is only a cosmetic issue, but a good-looking set of mortar and pestle is always desirable.
A marble mortar and pestle set also requires some maintenance. As with most mortar and pestle sets, you need to condition and season it before using it for the first time. It’s a one-time ritual that can help you forge a bond with your mortar. They can be cleaned using a little unscented soap and a brush.
Granite Mortar and Pestle
Just like marble, granite is a natural stone, but it comes directly from the earth’s core. Granite is formed by the magma crystallizing slowly below the Earth’s surface. Just like marble, the mineral composition of the magma can give granite interesting colors and patterns.
Granite mortar and pestles are known to be the traditional grinder in Thai cuisine. They are one of the staple kitchen tools that a Thai cook can’t do without.
Granite is known for being the most robust natural rock, so you won’t have any trouble smashing things in a granite mortar and pestle. Since granite is virtually impossible to scratch, it’s a kitchen utensil for life.
With a granite set, you can make delicious pastes, sauces, and spice grinds. You can even crack hard nuts; just make sure to protect your eyes from the ricochets. Plus, the tiny pores on its surface help you crush and smash the ingredients easily and quickly.
Resistance to Acidic Foods
Granite is much more resistant to acid than marble. You don’t need to worry about adding citrus juices or vinegar into your granite mortar. You can only damage or leave a stain on your granite mortar if you leave acid on it for a prolonged time. So, as long as you clean, dry, and store the set properly, your mortar and pestle can serve you and your family for a very long time.
Just like a marble set, you need to condition and season your brand new granite mortar and pestle set before you start grinding with it. Seasoning a granite mortar and pestle can take some time, but it’s a one-time job.
You simply grind some rice, garlic, and spices in the mortar. Raw rice grains sand off the mortar’s excess particles, providing you with a smoother surface. Garlic collects these particles and leaves its iconic flavor on the mortar mixed with all the spices. This way, your mortar doesn’t emit granite particles in your food and adds a unique aroma to whatever you grind in it.
Cleaning up a granite mortar and pestle is pretty similar to a marble mortar and pestle. Rinse the set thoroughly and scrub it lightly with unscented soap. You might even skip this step if you haven’t made an oily paste. Scrub the set with a brush to remove everything that might have stuck in the pores, rinse, and air dry completely. This routine is crucial for a granite — and also marble — mortar and pestle set.
Granite is the hardest natural stone. Thanks to this, you can crack, grind, and bash with much less effort using a granite set like KROK than with other mortar and pestles made of different materials. The only downside of a granite mortar and pestle is that it smashes everything pretty quickly, so leaving soft chunks in the paste for some extra texture, such as fruit chunks, can be difficult.
Which Mortar and Pestle Material is the Best One?
- Both stones have a somewhat porous surface.
- Granite is more rigid than marble. This makes grinding and smashing with a granite mortar and pestle easier and quicker, and you can’t chip tiny pieces even if you wanted to.
- Both granite and marble have naturally unique patterns and can look amazing on your countertop or as a flashy serving bowl. While marble pieces typically have more flashy patterns, they are prone to stains, especially when grinding acids. But at the end of the day, it’s purely an aesthetic concern and depends only on your preferences and style.
- Granite can do pretty much everything a marble set of mortar and pestle does and more. It’s a more versatile tool that can last longer.
The Winner: Granite Mortar and Pestle
A mortar and pestle can really change the way you make sauces, pastes, and spice mixes. The crashing action brings out the natural oils and aroma molecules while imparting an interesting texture to the dishes.
Overall, granite is the winner of this competition, hands down, if you’re looking for a long-lasting kitchen tool that can also endure heavy-duty coursing. If you’re only interested in making Mediterranean dishes, a marble mortar and pestle can create wonders with your regular pesto recipe.
If you’re looking to buy a mortar and pestle, check out our article on the best mortar and pestle sets.