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How to maintain a wooden mortar and pestle?

I just got it, and understood I need to first oil it to seal/protect it from keeping the taste of what I grind, which makes sense.

But how to maintain it for long term? Wash it with water and maybe soap? Oil it again after sometime?

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  • I have always considered these to be decorative only, I personally would not use it in any food preparation. Think about it, you're rubbing two pieces of wood together, what's going to be the result? Sawdust. I won't even talk about the absorption of liquids into wood. Jun 9, 2018 at 17:25
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    Depends on the wood. Woods like teak and acacia are superdense and really unlikely to give off any dust or splinters in use. The main reason I wouldn't get one is that even the hardest woods are softer than ceramic/stone, and thus problematic for very hard things like peppercorns.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 9, 2018 at 23:52
  • @FuzzyChef but they tend to be larger, and less expensive than stone ones, so if you’re mashing plantains for mofongo or making large batches of aioli or pesto, wood makes sense.
    – Joe
    Jun 10, 2018 at 21:31
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    Also lighter, which is a plus for some. I have a beautiful antique porcelain M&P, holds a quart, grinds anything ... and my sweetie can't lift it.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 10, 2018 at 22:06
  • The mortar and pestle is unique in the way in inconveniences cooks for no added benefit. You can provide the manual friction with the associated tennis elbow yourself or you can just use a blender
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 1, 2023 at 12:16

2 Answers 2

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Note that a wooden mortar is first and foremost a wooden utensil and the same care instructions as for other wooden equipment apply.

So oiling it regularly with a food grade oil is a good idea. You can find Q/As on how to oil e.g. cutting boards here on the site.

For general cleaning, it depends on what you used it for.
Dry herbs and spices are easy: a quick wipe with a dry cloth should suffice in most cases. Wet preparations (think curry paste) are trickier, but a rinse with hot water is your first step. You will often find warnings about using dishwashing liquid and they have a point. Wood is prone to absorb whatever liquid it comes into contact with, and who wants the next preparation to taste like dishwater?

But your curry will also leave a taste. A common remedy for lingering smells is rice: grind it in your mortar and it should absorb it. Repeat until it remains neutral. Similar advice uses salt. And of course being diligent about oiling should reduce the absorption of liquids and flavors.

To be very honest, I would probably do two things:

  1. Reserve it for dry ingredients or at least roughly the same flavor profile - prevents that touch of garlic in your dessert - and live with the fact that it will develop a patina of past preparations.
  2. I might rarely even ignore the advice and use the tiniest bit of a non-scented dishwashing liquid for a very quick wipe followed by a good rinse off and probably oiling after it’s dry - but only if it’s absolutely necessary. Proceed at your own risk.

The absolute worst thing you could do is running it through your dishwasher or giving it a good long soak. Do “the opposite” and you should be fine.

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    Depending on the size, it might be better to do a lemon/coarse salt scrub like you’d do for a cutting board and avoid the dish soap
    – Joe
    Jun 10, 2018 at 21:26
  • Thanks! I'll try grinding rice or lemon/coarse salt in case I see that some flavors stuck to it, and regularly clean with water and then oil it Jun 11, 2018 at 8:01
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Mix a drop of blue Dawn with warm water, not hot, use a soft sponge over entire surface, then rinse with the same temperature water and allow to air dry for 48 hours, then crush a couple of tablespoons of white rice in the mortar.

Finally coat and soak in butcher block oil then wipe off excess

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