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How to Tell if Molcajete Is Cement or Lava Rock

Updated February 21, 2017

Molcajete is a Spanish term for "mortar." Along with the term "tejolote," "molcajete" refers to a dark black mortar and pestle used to grind spices and herbs and to mix salsa and mole. The word itself comes from two Aztec terms: "molli" meaning sauce and "caxitl" meaning bowl. A true molcajete is made from basalt, a type of volcanic rock. Sometimes, individuals will attempt to pass off a fake molcajete, made from cement, as a real molcajete. Learn a few simple tricks to help you tell the difference.

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  1. Place a handful of fresh, diced tomatoes and chilli peppers into the molcajete. Use the tejolote, or pestle, to grind the diced tomato mixture in the bowl.

  2. Look for grit to begin to mix into the tomato mixture from the molcajete to verify that it is made from volcanic rock and not cement. Only lava rock will cause grit to break off into the tomato mixture upon first use. If no grit comes off into the tomato mixture, the bowl is most likely made from cement and is not a true molcajete.

  3. Smell the molcajete after about ten minutes for a scent of sulphur, which is another indication that the molcajete is authentic.

  4. Dump out the tomatoes and prepare the molcajete for continued use if you do notice grit in the tomatoes, as it is a true molcajete. Wash and scrub the inside of the bowl and pestle with water and a stiff brush. Place it upside down on a counter to air-dry.

  5. Season the molcajete. Place a handful of dry, uncooked white rice into the molcajete. Grind it into the bowl with the tejolote until the rice turns grey or ash-coloured. Discard the rice and repeat the grinding with more rice until no more grit is released and the ground rice remains white.

  6. Tip

    Give the molcajete back to the individual or return it to the place of purchase and request a refund if no grit comes off into the tomato mixture, as it is most likely made from cement and not true lava rock. Once you have seasoned your molcajete, add four cloves of peeled fresh garlic, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp pepper and 1 tsp salt into the molcajete. Grind the ingredients into a finely ground mixture that covers the inside surface of the molcajete. Remove the mixture and use it to make salsa or guacamole. Maintain the integrity of your molcajete by rinsing it and the tejolote with clear, warm water after each use and allowing it to air-dry.

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Things You'll Need

  • Molcajete and tejolote
  • Fresh, diced tomatoes and chilli peppers
  • Dry, white rice

About the Author

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