The inseparable culinary tool: Mortar and pestle

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The inseparable culinary tool: Mortar and pestle

The culinary tools still look the same as they did in their earliest days

The inseparable culinary tool: Mortar and pestle

A mortar (okhali) is a hard bowl or cup that can be made of materials depending on its intended usage and location. It is found in every Indian kitchen in different forms like stone, marble, bamboo, steel, wood, or other materials. A pestle is the vertical partner of mortar that is used to squeeze and grind ingredients in it.

The word 'mortar' comes from the Latin word 'mortarium', which translates to 'pounding place'. The word 'pestle' comes from the Latin word 'pistillum', which means 'pounder'.

Mentions of mortar and pestle have been found in the Ebers papyrus from ancient Egypt, which dates back to 1550 BC. It is one of the oldest pieces of medical literature that have been uncovered. The use of mortar and pestle in food preparation by grinding of spices has been traced back to around 6,000 years. Their design has mostly stayed constant over the last 10,000 years. They were also widely used in Egypt for cosmetics grinding.

Bronze Mortar and Pestle

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In the 14th and 16th centuries, bronze became the preferred material for these instruments. By the 16th century, mortars had been embellished with handles, knobs, and even spouts to facilitate pouring. They were also occasionally embellished with the artwork. The mortar and pestle were still made of bronze, but occasionally wood or stone were also used.

Porcelain Mortar and Pestle

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In the late 17th century, when porcelain (ceramic material) mortar and pestles became accessible, they immediately swept up a considerable portion of the market due to their acid resistance and ease of cleaning. Even now, this style is popular.

The stone and muller

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It was an alternative to mortar and pestle in the 18th and 19th centuries. Artists adopted this as a tool for blending and mixing paints in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The stone and muller were two flat items rubbed together, which differed differently from  the mortar and pestle, despite the fact that they were both used to grind things.

Sil Batta

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The sil batta (Ammikallu) is a mortar and pestle, similar to the stone and muller, that has been used in Indian cookery for centuries. The sil is a flat stone bed on which the batta can be rolled for grinding purposes. The sil batta is primarily used to make spice pastes and masalas.

Even today, mortars and pestles are still used to pound substances into powder in many laboratories. While they are still used to combine medicines by pharmacies, their significance in the pharmaceutical business is now more symbolic than practical.

However, for the vast majority of us, the mortar and pestle are mostly used in the kitchen. The mortar and pestle are eternal because their design is still functional, but their appeal in the kitchen extends beyond utility to ritual. Modern kitchens are equipped with shiny appliances that can shred fresh herbs or grind seeds into dust at the touch of a button. Some individuals believe that using a hand-powered mortar and pestle rather than an automatic grinder releases the herbs and spices aromatics more effectively. It is also believed that anything pounded with a mortar and pestle tastes better. Some people simply use it to carry on a custom from the past.

Take hold of one of the world's oldest tools and begin grinding.