This $40 Japanese Tool Is Better than a Food Processor and a Mortar and Pestle Combined

updated Oct 2, 2021
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I’m all for modern technologies that make cooking easier, more pleasant, and safer (looking at you, refrigerator). But I’ve never been a gadget girl. For one, I don’t have the counter space. The real reason I’m not easily wooed by the Next Big Thing, though, is that I just prefer the energy of simple kitchen tools. Maybe the idea of all of those blades and running motors around my pesto makes me a little uneasy. So while, yes, I do have a high-speed blender, I find myself reaching for a smaller and less fussy tool far more often.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

I’m talking about my suribachi, a Japanese-style mortar and pestle. It serves so many functions beyond grinding spices (although it’s pretty great at that). I adore mine so much, I have started giving friends their own for birthdays and housewarming gifts.

Here are four reasons I love it so dearly.

1. It grinds spices better than a typical mortar and pestle.

Now this is a matter of opinion, but I’m willing to defend mine passionately: This is the most efficient style of mortar and pestle. The ceramic bowl has shallow grooves running vertically up and down its gradually sloping sides. The rough surface of the bowl catches the spices and holds them in place while you grind. In other words, no more coriander seeds running amuck all over your kitchen floor.

2. It does more than grind spices!

Folks are skeptical when I tell them I make my favorite garlicky greens in a suribachi. But it’s true. I use my largest suribachi to mash garlic and lemon zest into a paste, then add chopped and steamed greens (I like Swiss chard and pan di zucchero). I work the pestle around, softening the greens and breaking down the fibers. This is something I used to do in my food processor. Although the suribachi version takes a few more minutes, it tastes better and has a much more pleasant texture. Plus, there’s no danger of slicing a finger on a blade during cleanup.

I have also used my suribachi to make curry pastes and wet masalas, or spice blends (roughly chop inch-long pieces of ginger, garlic, and turmeric, and mash them in the suribachi with a healthy sprinkle of salt, curry leaves, and lime zest).

3. It’s so easy to clean.

Have you ever cut yourself while trying to clean a food processor container? One thousand points for the suribachi. It’s a simple bowl with no impossible-to-reach crevices or crannies. (The grooves rinse out easily!) While you can put most of them in dishwasher or just wash with soap and water, most times I just rinse it and let it air-dry before giving it another spin. Any tool that gets near-constant use in my kitchen must be low-maintenance. The suribachi delivers.

4. It’s super affordable.

I don’t like spending gobs of money on my kitchen tools. (Instead I prefer to splurge on expensive oils and salts! Anyone else with me?) An extra-large suribachi will run you around $70, and the prices drops considerably if all you want is a little one for spices. (Of course, you can pay up for one that’s handmade.)