mortar and pestle substitute

Mortar and Pestle Substitute for Kitchen Convenience

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Get Smarter On Architecture and Design

Get the 3-minute weekly newsletter keeping 5K+ designers in the loop.

Enter your Email to Sign up


If you want to make the most delicious and aromatic meals, you will need an addition of fresh spices in your recipe. So, if you want to show your guests your hidden cooking skills, how about some freshly ground ingredients? So you will need a mortar and pestle for the job. But, what if you don't have them? This is when you start thinking about a good mortar and pestle substitute that you can use for grinding spices.

You can use many alternatives as a substitute for mortar and pestle, including the best spice grinders. This makes you explore your kitchen tools more and also makes you flexible. In addition, it means that you do not have to be limited because you do not have a mortar and pestle.

In our article today, we shall discuss mortar and pestle alternatives that are cheap and easy to find. This will make your cooking more fun, even if you do not have the combo to get started. Please keep reading to find out more.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and pestle is an old appliance for grinding grains. A mortar is a sturdy basin made of stone, ceramic, or wood to grind food. The pestle crushes the ingredients, and it is a circular club made from the same material as the mortar.

The original method for grinding grain was the mortar and pestle, which consisted of placing the grain in a small hole in a stone, the mortar, and pounding it with a rodlike stone, the pestle.

Smaller, more refined versions of the mortar and pestle have remained popular in kitchens for making pastes and other finely ground ingredients and in pharmacies and chemical laboratories. They are also used to grind medicinal herbs.

1. Coffee Grinder

A coffee grinder is the first option to a mortar and pestle that we'd like to mention. "Is there any similarity between a mortar and pestle and a grinder?" you might think. So, allow me to clarify.

In short, there is no structural similarity between these two tools. However, they serve the same purpose in terms of function. The coffee grinder uses its tiny but sharp burr to divide items into little grinds, similar to how the mortar and pestle are used to shatter massive, hard things into a soft, smooth powder. Take the coffee grounds as an example, and you'll see what I mean.

As a result, a coffee grinder can be used as a mortar and pestle substitute. However, there is one caveat: and you can only grind dry, hard food in the grinder. Only when the ingredient is in this state does the grinder perform well.

And did you know that roasting spices before grinding them releases all their aromatic oils, resulting in a much stronger flavor? It means that even if you have a coffee grinder, you may require a roaster.

2. Rolling Pin

The rolling pin can also function well as a mortar and pestle. A rolling pin, in particular, is useful for crushing and shattering food from a solid, hard form into tiny pieces. If you don't have a mortar and pestle but do have a rolling pin, here's how to grind spices without one: cut them first, then pound them with the rolling pin.

Using a rolling pin has its downsides because, as you can see, the pin is small and weak, so if you want to grind spices with it, you'll need to apply more force. Furthermore, rolling pins will make your workspace more cluttered, necessitating cleanup.

3. Spice Grinder

The spice grinder looks a lot like a coffee grinder. But, on the other hand, the spice grinder utilizes blades to grind spices into powder, whereas the coffee grinder uses a conical burr to crush coffee beans into grounds.

The spice grinder can grate the herbs and spices into small, smooth pieces. And isn't that what a mortar and pestle are for? As a result, the spice grinder can be used in place of a mortar and pestle.

We recommend using a spice grinder solely for dry spices such as chili, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, clove, and so on. 

4. Coffee Mug

You might be wondering why a coffee cup — a delicate, crystal object – was included in the list of mortar and pestle alternatives. The coffee cup is not a poor substitute for a mortar and pestle if appropriately used.

To be more specific, a coffee mug and an empty bottle both serve the same purpose when it comes to smashing food. The two are heavy and powerful enough to smash little herbs and spices to smithereens.

When smashing the cup, which is usually made of crystal, there is a good likelihood that it will break into fragments after a few smashes, just like the empty bottle case. As a result, we use the coffee mug to split them up if the seasonings are small and soft.

5. Meat Hammer

You can replace mortar and pestle with ease with a meat hammer. They have a lot of similarities, from the structure to the size.

The mortar and pestle have two mechanisms: one acts as a bowl for crushing herbs, while the meat hammer smashes the food into the ground or small pieces. And, with its sharp, tiny saw tooth and large surface, the meat hammer can smash food in the same way, right?

You can crush spices in a plastic Ziploc bag or dish before putting them in the food and smashing them with a meat hammer. The Ziploc bag works better than the mortar in some circumstances because the plastic bag won't tear.

6. An Empty Wine Bottle

An empty wine bottle is a fascinating alternative that not everyone will see, but it is! You can use the bottom of an empty wine bottle to pound soft spices.

This is because the bottom of the bottle, like the pestle, is thick and hefty. And the metal bowl where you pound these goods will double as a food bowl or, depending on the situation, a mortar.

However, it would be best to exercise caution when employing this technique. When pressing or grinding the bottle, too much pressure can cause it to crack.

This is going to be a disaster. However, this is an excellent strategy to utilize when you are confident that you can handle the exact amount of pressure required for grinding. You won't go out of your way to find an empty wine bottle; instead, buy a bottle of whatever to drink from your fridge, empty it, and rinse it.

7. A Mixer Grinder

Many people are unaware that a mixer grinder can perform the same function as a mortar, but more practically. Every cook would love to have a mixer grinder in their kitchen. Not only to grind spices or change the motor, but also for other kitchen tasks for which it was designed.

You will appreciate this tool if you do not have a mortar and pestle. A mixer grinder can grind dry spices and other ingredients like pastes. However, some mixer grinders are designed to ground wet spices, while others are designed for grinding dry spices.

However, it is not advisable to use them to grind wet spices like pepper, cumin, and coriander leaves because they are designed to crush dry spices like ginger, garlic, chilies, and coriander leaves.

8. A Heavy-Bottomed Pan

If you don't have a grinder, mortar, and pestle, as well as a rigid, non-crystal container, a heavy pan might be used as a mortar and pestle substitute. It may not be the most effective, but it is still a potential alternative.

Spices like peppercorns can be coarsely ground using the back of a skillet. Set the spices on a chopping board and gently place the pan on top of the spices. After that, evenly apply pressure to break down the peppercorns. When grinding stuff like garlic, the heavy pan will come in handy. Everyone should have a heavy skillet in their kitchen; it might be the simplest object you can utilize.

9. Weighty Blunt Object and Ziplock Bag

We mentioned the Ziploc bag several times earlier because it works nicely as a "container" for herbs and spices. However, isn't it true that it can end up all over the place when you smash the meal? Having a Ziploc bag to store them before crashing is a fantastic way to keep food clean and sanitary.

To crush food into pieces, you don't need a mortar; all you need is something heavy to apply enough force to the meal so that it breaks into fragments. As a result, use any heavy object as a "smasher" on the food. You can have whatever herbs or spices you want ground.

10. Small Hammer and a Bowl

A mortar is shaped like a bowl. You can use a small hammer in place of the pestle, but it must clean it before being used on food. Take great precautions to avoid breaking the bowl.

Press into the bowl with a hammer in a motion like a mortar and a pestle to crush spices. Grinding is less effective since excessively forceful grinding can damage the bowl.

11. Blender

Last but not least, we recommend using a blender. Its sharp blade and powerful engine will cut spices and herbs into tiny pieces like the spice grinder.

Because blending demands a smoother and softer result than grinding, the blender is designed to cut food with greater force. As a result, a blender can be used for grinding spices that your recipe requires.

Types of Mortar and Pestle

After using our mortar and pestle substitute suggestions, you may have now decided that it's time to get a real mortar and a real pestle. However, before you get the combo, you need to know the different types available to make a more informed decision while selecting.

These items come in different sizes, shapes, and even materials. That is why this information will be not only beneficial but also informative. So, please keep reading and enjoy.

a). Granite Mortar and Pestle

The granite mortar and pestle are the best among the various mortars and pestles. The Thai cookery prefers this traditionally when making spice pastes.

However, it is now widely used to grind spices and herbs worldwide. While they are cumbersome to transport, they are built of rough stones that can grind practically any spice, no matter how difficult.

They grind herbs and even fibrous items like kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, crushing dried chili peppers, ginger, galangal roots, and other spices.

b). Wooden Mortar and Pestle

Olive wood can also be used to make mortar and pestle, which you can also use to make a sauce of garlic. It was first used by Mediterranean chefs.

Because wood absorbs moisture more than any other material, residue and odor from previously ground spices will retain the mortar and pestle. However, if you correctly maintain them, you will not have to solve such issues.

It is also important to note that wooden mortar and pestle are only great when dedicated to a single spice.

c). Ceramic

In Europe, ceramic mortar and pestle use to grind food are widespread. The structure is excellent for turning pestos and cicadas into meals.

A ceramic mortar and pestle can also grind ginger, garlic, almonds, herbs, and bread. It's also better to utilize while making the green papaya salad popular in Thailand.

d). Cast Iron

Mortar and pestle can be made out of cast iron, and this structure is perfect for processing rough and hard seeds and other substances. However, cast iron requires more care as the material can easily rust.

Also, it is essential to check the coating of your mortar and pestle to ensure it is not very thick. A thick coating on the inside creates a slippery surface, making it harder to grind spices, including medicinal herbs.

e). Marble Mortar and Pestle

Marble Mortar and pestle are ideal for crushing spices, pounding garlic and ginger, and other similar tasks, but they are not ideal for herbs.

This is due to its ultra-smooth surface, which is ineffective for crushing herbs, seeds, and nuts. These items will undoubtedly dance around the food dish because they are not as hard and abrasive as granite.

What Factors Should You Look for When Selecting the Best Mortar and Pestle

A good mortar and pestle will give you incredible service in the kitchen. However, if you feel like it's time to get yourself this combo, you may have to put a few things in mind. Let's see what these factors are.

a). Size of Mortar and Pestle

The mortar and pestle size is the first and most obvious item to look for. The mortar should be large enough to handle various ingredients in size. There's no point in investing in a bit of mortar just to have ingredients fly out of the bowl as you try to smash them.

You'll also need a large pestle, which should be long enough to avoid striking your hand on the edge of the mortar while using it and wide enough at the bottom to strike the ingredients instead of just pushing them around the bowl.

This greater capacity is unnecessary if you plan to use the mortar as a spice grinder for single ingredients. Instead, you may only require a small mortar for quick and easy grinding of single ingredients.

b). The shape of Mortar and Pestle

The mortar should be shaped like a spherical bowl with no corners at the bottom. If ingredients can hide from the pestle, it will be tough to crush them. Some mortars have a more cylindrical shape, but these usually are for particular applications and will not be as handy for your first mortar purchase.

Some mortars contain bumps or other features on the outside of the mortar bowl to aid in holding the mortar while you pound it with the pestle. Although it isn't required, some cooks may enjoy a little assistance with the mortar.

c). Mortar and Pestle Material

The material used to make the mortar and pestle is critical to its functionality. The ideal option for general use is to acquire solid stone, such as granite or marble. The enormous weight of these stone mortars and pestles will break down the materials, and they will be able to withstand years of pounding and grinding before needing to be replaced.

Mortars made of weaker materials, such as wood, porcelain, or light metal, will simply not be able to break down the contents to the required levels. Some mortars will feature a silicone or rubber bottom as extra material. This is useful for preventing the mortar from sliding around as you grind and pound ingredients, as well as dampening some of the loud knocking noises.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mortar and Pestle Substitute

1. How many tablespoons are in a cinnamon stick

Wherever possible, you can use ground cinnamon instead of the stick (1 -3" stick = 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon). Or, for a distinct taste profile, try 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice for each 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Alternatively, use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

2. Can you blend cinnamon sticks?

If you're out of ground cinnamon and only have cinnamon sticks, you can grind the stick and save your recipe. First, put your cinnamon sticks in a manual or automatic coffee grinder. Then, remove the cinnamon powder from your grinder and place it in a small bowl before adding the next batch of sticks to crush.

3. How do you crush herbs into powder?

(i). Pestle and Mortar

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried herbs in the bottom of a mortar. Start pounding with the pestle in the bowl. To smash the herbs, firmly push the pestle into the bottom and edges of the basin. Crush until you get a fine, consistent powder.

(ii). Coffee Grinder

In a coffee grinder or spice mill container, measure 2 to 4 tablespoons of dried herbs. Place the cover on top of the grinder and secure it.

For 15 to 30 seconds, pulse the blade to ground the herbs. After grinding, remove the top to verify the consistency of the herbs. Replace the top and pulse until the almonds are ground into a fine powder.

4. How do you crush allspice?

Begin by grinding 1 teaspoon of allspice berries in a coffee grinder. Then, for 15 seconds, cover the spice grinder and grind the berries. Grind them for an additional 10 to 15 seconds if they aren't powdery after 15 seconds. Remove the allspice from the grinder and scrape it into a bowl.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Related Articles
DIY Kitchen Remodel Tips, Ideas, & Cost

DIY Kitchen Remodel Tips, Ideas, & Cost for a DIY Kitchen Makeover

Refurbishing your kitchen not only provides an exhilarating chance to tailor it to your family’s specific needs but also increases ...

small kitchen remodel

Small Kitchen Remodel Tips, Ideas, & Makeover Cost

Kitchens are the most expensive part of a house to remodel. Therefore, you can get your dream kitchen with clever ...

ikea kitchen remodel

Ikea Kitchen Remodel Tips, Ideas, & Makeover Cost

It goes without saying that not all IKEA kitchen makeovers are made equal. A new coat of paint on the ...