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This Everyday Kitchen Tool Is the Perfect Match for Little Hands

No cords, no sharp edges: The mortar and pestle is a great way for young cooks to help with prep.

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In a world filled with 10-in-1 electric pressure cookers, food processors that can do everything but wash the dishes, and smart fridges that will text you when you’re running low on orange juice, it can be a trip to turn back to timeless, less-techy tools. Case in point: Letting loose with the humble mortar and pestle is way more fun than pressing a “start” button.

Q: What’s the first thing most kids learn to make in the kitchen?

A: Noise!

With a mortar and pestle, you can channel a child’s love for banging on pots and pans into banging some stones together to make sauces and spice blends with a sense of history and place.

Here’s why (and how) to get started with the smash.

It’s a timeless tool (and sneaky history lesson). One of the oldest cooking techniques, mortar-and-pestle-style preparations date back tens of thousands of years—from Native Californians grinding acorns into meal in hollowed-out stones to Mexican molcajetes used to pound chiles, cocoa, and avocados to the biblical account of Israelites mashing up manna in their portable mortars. Using a mortar and pestle connects kids to the history of food preparation around the world.

Teach safety, safely. Cooking comes with safety risks, and the sooner kids can learn the importance of being mindful with certain tools, the safer they’ll be as they progress to using chefs’ knives, oil-spattering frying pans, and sharp box graters. While pinched or bruised fingers are a possibility, a mortar and pestle helps kids explore how adjusting their grip, technique, and speed protects their hands.

Start with single ingredients. While you could skip straight to a 40-ingredient Mexican mole, it might be a good idea to start practicing using the mortar and pestle with a single ingredient that can be smashed for fun. Search the pantry and fridge for coffee beans, frozen peas, fresh basil, walnuts, graham crackers, or fragrant spices like cardamom.

Get sense-ational. Encourage your child to use all of her senses—smell the aromas, feel the difference as ingredients get smaller or more mashed, see how ingredients move around with each bash, listen to the different sounds the pounding makes, and taste how fresh ingredients change after time under the pestle. Even if ingredients end up flying everywhere, you’re bound to have a smashing good time.

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!