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For numerous reasons, I need to prepare the vast majority of food salt-free. Been doing this since the 80's, and now we are very sensitive to any added salt in our food. This extends to, for instance, salting the water for boiling pasta or vegetables.

When I read about using a Mortar and Pestle, recipes often suggest adding a little salt to act as an abrasive. Clearly, from my family's point of view, that salt would not be desirable in the prepared dish.

What can I use as an alternative, without changing the flavors too much. For example, sugar might work from the abrasive point of view, but would add sweetness where it wasn't expected.

(Irrelevant, but someone will probably ask. 1/2tsp of salt in a meal is enough to cause my partner to be very ill. Hence the salt-free regime.)

  • is your motar and pestle wooden or stone? – Journeyman Geek Dec 26 '18 at 8:34
  • With a bit more grinding it shouldn't be a problem. – Alchimista Dec 27 '18 at 9:14
  • I have a Thai granite M&P (2lb pestle) – kdopen Dec 28 '18 at 22:57
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I've never heard of using salt as an abrasive with a mortar and pestle. I might just use more of the spice in question and filter whats left. But if you were looking to use something as an abrasive you could try whole versions of whatever spices you are already using (cardamom, coriander, mustard, etc.) Or for a generic option, peppercorn seeds. A bit of pepper doesnt hurt even when you think it might (eg baking).

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    I actually just used my pepper mill on coarse to add a little "grit" when the Pesto was not quite emulsifying. Worked a treat. – kdopen Dec 28 '18 at 23:01
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2 solutions:

  • I have an unpolished granite pestle and mortar: they're much cheaper than the polished granite ones and are much more abrasive then a wooden or ceramic one.

  • I also don't use any salt, (for taste reasons, not for health reasons), but if your partner is intolerant to the Na in the NaCl (salt) you can get get 100% chemically pure CaCl2¹ from any decent pharmacy² and that is an unlimited allowed food additive according to the FAO/WHO and it tastes just like salt.³

Note¹: Food grade is only 85-90% CaCl2 and will not be sufficient in your case...
Note²: Ask for the crystalline form...

Note³: Talk to your physician about this solution before believing random strangers on the Internet!
  • Calcium chloride tastes very salty though, so it would probably be quite unpleasant for someone unused to salty food. – Chris H Dec 25 '18 at 21:14
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    @ChrisH That's why two solutions: it depends what the OP wants. I use my mortar and pestle for small batches of wet ingredients too as it's easier to clean than the blender. – Fabby Dec 25 '18 at 21:19
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    Calcium chloride not only tastes salty, it gives vegetables an unpleasant firmness, and produces a very specific odor when cooked. I have foods which include it, and hated them, except for certain preparations such as tofu. – rumtscho Dec 26 '18 at 13:44
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    @rumtscho My granduncle was in the same situation as OP's partner so I talked to 2 GPs and a cardiologist and to him, my little salt mill was a gift from God! – Fabby Dec 26 '18 at 16:17
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    Great answer, as the upvotes show. I've accepted a different one, simply because adding some pepper actually solved my problem. thanks – kdopen Jan 2 at 14:48
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I almost never add salt when grinding, in a rough ceramic mortar with a pestle to match. It simply doesn't occur to me: I've been light on salt for ages, much more so since baby-led weaning. So in many cases you can simply omit it, and maybe work a little harder.

Most of what I grind is dry spices. Some, such as coriander, grind much better if toasted first - they're more brittle. This is a good idea anyway as a lot of spices release their flavour better this way. Starting with dried chillies helps a lot compared to fresh, if you grind chillies. The harder ingredients, like coriander and especially fenugreek will act to break up softer things. Sugar, however, is too soft to be much use.

If you like to make your own pesto, or other wet things that are often ground (and you might well do if you're avoiding salt) then a mini chopper/grinder device or food processor attachment helps a lot - simply avoid grinding by hand.

  • Coors makes nice ceramic mortar and pestles. Both the mortar inside and the pestle head are rough. The two parts are designed to have very nearly the same curvature, so grinding goes fast, withot any added abrasive. Mine's a 145 ml Coors 60316 that I bought in grad school. Still works great. Looking at Amazon, it looks like Coors porcelain division changed name to CoorsTek since the 1980's. They'll sell you a 60316 for a bit over $30. Likely one of the best Mortar and pestles made. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 26 '18 at 1:32
  • The unpolished mortar and pestle mentioned by Fabby are a much better solution than any chemical one. I don't believe that even in an inadequate mortar there's anything that wouldn't give in to a bit more elbow grease, but at least let the mortar texture help you. You should be able to get equipment with a good helpful grain in most Mexican markets, where they are sold to people who really use them instead of as decoration. – George M Dec 26 '18 at 23:53
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    @GeorgeM Yes, Coors sells to chemists, and they do Not want to add salt to anything they've spent 8 days synthesizing. A rough surfaced mortar with a rough surfaced pestle and a close fit between the curvature of the two surfaces is the cure here. If you buy a piece of polished marble at the local organic shop, you will probably end up frustrated. As you say, the Mexican markets often sell decent sets. A bit coarse for my taste, but the rough surfaced pieces usually fit together right. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 27 '18 at 0:51
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    @WayfaringStranger The main market for Coors is chemists. In general, chemists are trying to obtain a very fine powder from small amounts of fairly brittle crystals. Cooks are trying to obtain a reasonably fine powder from larger quantities of tough seeds/bark/etc.- those are different requirements. – Martin Bonner Dec 27 '18 at 15:23
  • @MartinBonner I use mine mostly for spices these days. A bit small, but it works quite well. The points I was try to make was that you want rough surfaces and a good fit between mortar and pestle. When I check out the marble or onyx ones at the organic shops, they're usually smooth, with a poor fit. As George M mentioned the Mexican shops are a good source of well made, larger pairs. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 27 '18 at 17:08
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Try NuSalt instead. It is potassium chloride (KCL). (It also works great for tight muscles or muscle spasms if you drink a lot of water and flush away electrolytes.)

Or try a non-glazed mortar & pestle. Some are smooth, while others are rough.

Or try buying the pre-ground spices and skip the mortar & pestle.

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    @Fabby no, potassium chloride is KCl (whereas NaCl is sodium chloride). Still I don't think this is a good answer. – leftaroundabout Dec 27 '18 at 11:23
  • @leftaroundabout Thanks for the clartification. I've been out of the Chemical industry for a while and I'm getting confused by the weird English names again and only remember the Latin ones. – Fabby Dec 27 '18 at 21:49
  • KCl is a medical hazard if you get too much at once. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 27 '18 at 22:03
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    @WayfaringStranger I did the math once. You'd have to eat about a whole shaker full to die. LD50 is 1500mg/kg. I just dump it into my glass of water. And it tastes good. Tastes like coconut water. Pretty sure the poster who hates salt won't be eating much. – Chloe Dec 27 '18 at 23:25
  • @Chloe You're right on oral dose. I was wrongly set on lethal injection dose, where it's more like 7.4 g: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lethal_injection#Potassium_chloride It goes in slow though the stomach. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 28 '18 at 0:21

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