African cuisine is as diverse as the populace of the continent but one culinary tool has been a common denominator in this diverse culinary culture… the mortar and pestle. Used for centuries, the mortar and pestle was the tool that local culinarians depended on to prepare everything from staples to spice mixes. The use of the mortar and pestle tool was so widespread that it was custom in some West African cultures to give a new bride this tool to take to her husband’s house. A true African country is simply not complete without a mortar and pestle.
The mortar is a large heavy bowl made of wood on a pedestal base. It is about 1 to 1½ feet high and has an interior diameter of 24 to 30 inches. The pestle is about 3 to 5 feet tall. The design is a slender rod form with a ball shaped ends. The design on the ends is to allow for a larger surface area which makes the grinding process more effective and less time consuming. The complete tool weighs about 20 to 30 pounds. Cleaning is very easy with the only requirement is water and a clean rag to remove any stuck on food items and allow to air dry.
Modern technology however has made the process of grinding and pounding easy. Food processor, blenders and powdered staples like yam and other staple flour has all but removed the need of this tool. The staples that are made from the flour formulation however don’t fully duplicate the taste and texture of the manually pounded form.