I have a dedicated spice grinder (one of those little “coffee grinders” that doesn’t work on coffee,) but I’ve decided that I need a good mortar and pestle. I gave away the wooden ones and the porcelain ones that just don’t work either.
Why do I want a mortar and pestle? Well, the spice grinder does not work well for small quantities like I often used when doing single-serving cooking–I do mean literally single-serving cooking. When all I want to grind is six allspice berries and 1/8 teaspoon of cumin seeds–the grinder is overkill, and they really just bounce around in there, so it’s not really efficient and then add cleaning time and effort. (This is kind of like my feeling about food processors versus my chef’s knife–give me simple and effective, along with easy clean-up for small quantities of stuff!)
That doesn’t mean I’m giving up my spice grinder–it’s great when I’m making a huge pot of chili con carne and need to grind larger quantities. But when all I want is a few spices to put into two servings of mujadara I’ll opt for manual labor. Not giving up the food processor either–love it for making large quantities of mirepoix for the freezer.
Given how unhappy I’ve been with all the previous mortars and pestles I’ve had, I went in search of a review of them. From Fine Cooking I found “Equipment Review: Mortars and Pestles” with a discussion of materials, pros, and cons, and even some specific recommendations.
The top rated one was made of granite with granite pestle from ImportFoods.com was one tested. Part of the utility of a mortar is how rough or smooth the inside is. I don’t want to buy one sight unseen from “that place” because I won’t be able to look inside it and feel the interior.