A mortar is a bowl made of hard wood and the pestle is a heavy club-shaped object, used for pounding. Before flour making machines were introduced in Africa, people used wooded pestles and mortars to pound dry maize grains and dried cassava roots into flour. These tools were universal.
They were used by local doctors and pharmacists for preparing medicines and medicinal plants, by painters for the preparation of paint, by physicists and chemists for processing chemicals, by cooks for preparing spices and chopping various kinds of food and by women for make-up.
Nowadays, despite all the electrical appliances that are available, a pestle and mortar can still be found in some kitchens, laboratories or hospitals and art galleries.
Early mortar and pestles were made from wood, many cultures used hollowed out tree trucks or rocks as a mortar and pestle to grind flour from wheat, seeds and nuts.
Using mortars and pestles, the substance to be ground is placed in the mortar and ground or crushed with the pestle. Today mortars are still very popular in some African countries for making ugali, which is food made from maize. To some people, especially in rural areas, they still own mortars and pestles as their ideal tools for grinding and pounding spices and herbs.
Although most mortars and pestles sets are similar in structure, these days the materials used to make them vary greatly, from wood to stone to ceramic, but the material must be very tough and hard, so that it is resistant to impact and damage from the food that you chop, and also make it more stable.