A mortar and pestle alternative is essential if you’re making a recipe that calls for you to use one and you do not have one on hand. Another reason for needing a mortar and pestle alternative is making a meal in a kitchen that is not your kitchen. If you want to grind some herbs and spices but don’t have a mortar and pestle, these DIY mortar and pestle ideas should help.
Crushing herbs and spices release aromatic oils while providing a deep flavor to your meals.
We make most mortars and pestles out of stone or wood. The difference between the two is that a mortar holds the substance you’re grinding, while a pestle grinds it into a mash, paste, or pieces.
Using these DIY mortar and pestle ideas is not ideal for making a paste, but it will work in a pinch. Rather than using a mortar, you can usually use a bowl or cutting board and then break up the herbs or spices you are grinding with a mallet or rolling pin. However, we will go over this in detail in our 10 ideas for a makeshift mortar and pestle.
In the following few paragraphs, we will go over some ways to make a DIY mortar and pestle. Learning how to grind spices without a mortar and pestle is what we aim to teach.
We do not suggest using a coffee mug or any other breakable material like a mason jar. If you use these as a DIY mortar and pestle, you risk hurting yourself if they break.
10 DIY Mortar and Pestle Ideas
#1 Nut Grinder
A manual nut grinder or electric nut chopper will work wonders in place of a mortar and pestle. One great thing about using a nut grinder as a mortar and pestle alternative is that it will not usually have any pungent odors lingering on its blades. However, after you grind up chilis, sage, rosemary, or any other herb, you will have to thoroughly clean the nut grinder or risk causing the future nuts that you grind to smell like herbs.
A manual nut grinder is a great cheap alternative. It will not grind herbs as fine as a mortar and pestle, but it provides an option for quickly grinding up larger quantities of spices. In short, if you want to grind your spices by hand, and need a DIY mortar and pestle just put them through a nut grinder.
#2 Coffee Grinder
Another alternative to using a mortar and pestle is to use your coffee grinder. The same machines that grind up coffee beans can also grind up your spices. A coffee grinder is another good item that you can use to substitute for the mortar and pestle.
If you own a coffee grinder, it will be necessary to thoroughly clean out any old grounds before grinding herbs or spices. However, the result may be more of a powder than anything else. More importantly, you don’t want to use the coffee grinder to grind herbs and spices for a meal. The coffee odor and particulates will contaminate the herbs and spices. However, if you use it to crush nuts as a cake topping, the coffee flavor may come as a pleasant surprise.
#3 Rolling Pin and Plastic Bag
A rolling pin often makes a tremendous DIY mortar and pestle. Most people have a rolling pin and a plastic bag, so this is one way you can grind spices by hand. All you do is place whatever ingredients you want to mash into the bag, put it on a countertop and then move the rolling pin back and forth across the bag of spices. Despite not being as effective as pounding a pestle into a mortar, it could still be helpful if you don’t have one.
#4 Tea Kettle and Plastic Bag
What happens if you don’t have a rolling pin? Tea kettles are usually heavy, antique copper tea kettles or regular Chantelle stovetop tea kettles. Put the herbs and spices into a plastic bag, then place them on a hard surface. Now grab the tea kettle handle and use the bottom surface to pound and press the herbs. Since this article is about DIY mortar and pestle tips, you can also put them into a cotton bag or a clean sock if you don’t want to use plastic. None of these methods will work better than a mortar and pestle. However, they will get you by in a pinch.
#5 A Metal Bowl and Small Hammer
Take note that we mentioned “metal bowl”; you do not want to pound a ceramic bowl with a hammer. Only use this method with a metal bowl or pot. You can press and grind the hammer onto each item that you are crushing. You are taking the flat end of the hammer and pressing it down onto your mixture. Using this makeshift mortar and pestle will help you crush your garlic, herbs, fruits, or spices quickly.
#6 Cutting Board and Mallot as a DIY Mortar and Pestle
Take a wooden cutting board and a flat meat tenderizer, this method can mimic a wooden mortar and pestle. Just slowly mash and grind your mixture until it is the consistency you want. If you are mashing curry spices, you may wish to a more delicate powder or paste, so you’ll need to take your time and do this slowly. However, if you are mashing fruits for a spritzer drink, you can accomplish this quickly without a mortar and pestle. If you are mashing wet ingredients, be sure to place them into a bowl so you don’t get a lot of juices running off the side of the cutting board.
#7 A Box Grater as A DIY Mortar and Pestle Alternative
Whether you have a traditional box grater or a carrot shredder tool, either one will work as a way for you to grind spices by hand without a mortar and pestle. The trick is that you have to be careful if you are grinding small herbs because you don’t want your finger to come close to the box grater blade. Using this method will work best with herbs and spices that have long twigs like rosemary because the stick will give you something to hold onto and keep your hand away from the box grater blade. You can also wear metal kitchen gloves to protect your hand when using this method.
#8 Electric Shredder Attachment for a Mixer
If you have a mixer, you may have some attachments that you never use, some of these will work as a DIY mortar and pestle alternative. Some mixers come with electric shredder attachments, and other mixers have this as an add-on that you can purchase separately. You can easily add all kinds of food products to the shredder, and it will work surprisingly well as a substitute for a mortar and pestle. Some things that you can shred are garlic, ginger, allspice, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, saffron, nuts, and even rosemary.
#9 Food Processor
Most food processors have a setting for making a mash or paste. If you have a food processor on hand, it will make a good mortar and pestle alternative. The food processor won’t give you a deep mash, but it’s a good DIY mortar and pestle if you don’t have one readily available. A food processor will tear and shred the herbs, but it won’t crush them. Crushing them gives you much better flavor from the garlic, spices, and herbs.
#10 Ginger Grater
If you have one of these small ceramic ginger graters, you should try it as a mortar and pestle alternative. After you press and rub your spices against the ginger grater, they will turn into a paste. However, it may be hard to run your hand back and forth across the ginger grating surface if you have small amounts of herbs. The downside is that there will not be any pounding + mashing; instead, you will just be rubbing the herbs along the rough ginger gating surface. It will work as a one-time makeshift mortar and pestle; however, it won’t be a permanent solution.
How to Grind Cinnamon Sticks Without a Grinder
How to grind cinnamon sticks by hand
If you need to grind cinnamon sticks and don’t have a grinder, use a Microplane, box grater, or ginger grater. Each of these is also a great DIY mortar and pestle alternative. Another alternative is to put them into a plastic bag and use a heavy object like a can of food or a metal tea kettle to pound the cinnamon sticks. If you decide to use a Microplane to grate your cinnamon stick, I suggest you go in one direction over the plane. It also works best if you do it in quick short bursts, so you get the strength and torque behind each pass.
How to Crush Rosemary
Learning how to crush rosemary is essential because you don’t want to get a piece of rosemary caught in your throat. Any of our DIY mortar and pestle methods will work for crushing rosemary. Having a food processor is a luxury that will allow you to mash your rosemary with its blades easily. Crushing rosemary is also quickly done by using a mallet or other complex item and pounding the rosemary. Lastly, a mortar and pestle work great for crushing rosemary.
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs to put into roasted potatoes. I made a roasted tomato and rosemary sauce for tossing with pasta one year. I did not crush the rosemary, so while it was burning, it became like a thorny twig, which lodged itself in the back of my throat. My friend had to use a bright light and tweezers to pull it out. The roasted tomato rosemary dish is my favorite way to use the bumper crop of tomatoes each year.
You turn the oven to 350° and roast diced tomatoes (which I use a tomato dicer) with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. Every gardener knows you get a lot of tomatoes at the end of the season. However, make sure that you crush the rosemary before roasting it, so you don’t get it lodged in your throat, as I did. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time to crush it, just leave the whole rosemary twigs and remember to pull them out before you freeze the sauce.
Final Thoughts on a DIY Mortar and Pestle
Check out this list of 10 DIY mortar and pestle alternatives if you’re looking for something simple and maybe even creative! You can use everything from an electric shredder attachment to your food processor to create the perfect mash without the heavy lifting! However, a heavy blunt object like a can, rolling pin, or mallet will make a tremendous makeshift mortar and pestle.