Mortar and Pestle: A Key for Grinding Spice Blends at Home

Emile Henry Mortar Pestle

Product Reviewed
Emile Henry Mortar and Pestle

I used to think mortar and pestle was a tool used only in old fashioned apothecaries. Now I know they are essential kitchen tools for extracting the flavors and oils from fresh or dried herbs and spices. As a dietitian, I love teaching people how to have fun in the kitchen; cook simple, nutritious meals: and eat healthier as a result.

While this Emile Henry Mortar and Pestle isn’t as ubiquitous as, say, the oven or blender, it now has its place in my kitchen for special recipes that deserve a pop of flavor from fragrant herbs and spices — which happen to be jam-packed with antioxidants.

Never having used a mortar and pestle before, I decided to start with a simple spice blend to flavor pan-fried tofu. Typically, I go with simple salt and pepper. But this time, I decided to upgrade the flavor profile with some Asian flair and used sesame seeds and ginger in this blend. To keep it easy, I combined equal parts coarse sea salt, black peppercorns, sesame seeds and dried ginger in the bowl and used the pestle to grind them as finely as I could.

The friction from the grit of the mortar (bowl) helped to grind the spices, but I found it took a few minutes to get the hang of it. “Do I mash the pestle? Turn it in circles around the bowl?” Eventually I found the right flick of my wrist to grind the spices together until they were pretty finely ground, but with some bits of peppercorn and sesame throughout. I stuck my finger in for a taste and was surprised by how peppery and spicy the peppercorns were when they were freshly ground, and how flavorful the sesame became. Had I toasted the seeds before grinding, I think it would have intensified even more.

An Emile Henry Mortar and Pestle is a fun tool for at-home chefs who love experimenting with different spice blends, or who enjoy fresh pesto in the summer. It could be a handy tool for those who need to reduce excess sodium in their diet, since flavorful herbs and spices help cut back on salt in recipes. An added bonus is that this particular mortar and pestle is pretty to look at. I’ve kept it on an exposed shelf in my kitchen as a decorative piece and as a visual reminder to grind up new spice blends in the future!

Peppery Sesame Tofu

Recipe by Janel Funk, MS, RD, LDN


1/2 to 1 tsp. whole peppercorns (less if you don’t like it too spicy)
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1 tsp. dried ginger
3 Tbsp. grapeseed or coconut oil
Diced extra firm organic tofu, pressed and drained to get rid of excess moisture


  1. Grind the spice blend in the mortar and pestle until finely ground.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a skillet until a droplet of water dropped in the pan sizzles. Add oil and let heat for a minute.
  3. Place tofu cubes in the pan and sprinkle half of the seasoning mix on top. Let fry for 5-7 minutes, until bottom half of tofu has turned golden brown. Flip tofu cubes, sprinkle remaining spice blend on top, and fry until the bottom is golden brown, 5-7 more minutes.
  4. Once cooked, transfer tofu to a large plate lined with a paper towel to soak up excess oil. Let cool slightly before eating.
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Janel Funk
Janel Funk, MS, RD, LDN, is a Boston-based registered dietitian who enjoys helping people reach their nutrition goals, one bite at a time. Follow her food adventures on her blog, Eat Well with Janel, Facebook page, or on Twitter @DietitianJanel.