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Icons: Mortar and Pestle

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The humble Mortar and Pestle dates back to 1550 BCE. We tell you what makes this kitchen tool such an icon

The mortar and pestle is as ancient as civilisation itself. The world may have moved on to kitchen blenders that pulse and blend any kind of vegetable or fruit in minutes but for purists in the kitchen, a good old session with the mortar and pestle makes for a far more rewarding exercise. That’s because the act of pounding any food material in a mortar and pestle releases its natural oils and results in a far more intense flavor. This is one object whose design has changed very little over so many centuries.

The word mortar derives from classical Latin “mortarium,” which means "receptacle for pounding" and "product of grinding or pounding". The classical Latin word pistillum, meaning "pounder", is the origin of the word pestle. Stone and marble are some of the most common materials that form the classical mortar and pestle. They are also made from ceramic, hard wood and iron, depending on its usage. The oldest record of the mention of this valuable kitchen tool originates from ancient Egypt; it is mentioned in a medical manuscript called the Papyrus Ebers, approximately dating back to about 1550 BCE.

The way in which a mortar and pestle is designed can cause differences in the taste of the food prepared. Longer pestles allow for very different kinds of hand motions than that achieved by one that is shorter in length. 

In India, the mortar and pestle is primarily used for grinding spices. It has also been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes. At a time when we have every imaginable gadget to use in the kitchen to make our life easier, it is a telling sign that we are rediscovering the joy of using a mortar and pestle in the kitchen.


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