The Mortar and Pestle: Gomasio

Good cooks and herbalists treasure—and use—a tool that’s been around for millenia.

| April/May 2001

Makes about 11/4 cups

This condiment has been prepared in Japan for centuries. It is simply toasted sesame seeds ground in a mortar and pestle with salt. The ratio of sesame seeds to salt varies widely, as does the type of sesame seeds. I’ve added dried toasted seaweed, which adds minerals plus additional flavor. I use alaria (wild Atlantic wakame) or kombu, but any kind would work.

You can use this sesame salt as a garnish for many foods. I like it on steamed vegetables, rice and egg dishes, soups, salads, and sandwiches, or as a dip for radishes, cucumbers, or jicama; my friends like to receive jars of it as gifts. I use a Japanese suribachi for preparing this mix, because the textured grooves on the inside of the bowl make it ideal for grinding seeds. Then I use a small, stiff brush to get the excess seed paste out of the grooves.

  • 1 cup unhulled sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup sea salt, coarse or kosher
  • 1/4 cup shredded or torn dried seaweed (if desired)
  1. Toast the sesame seeds and seaweed in a small skillet over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  2. Combine the toasted seeds, seaweed, and salt in a mortar and pestle and lightly pound the ingredients to crush them. Then use the pestle in a circular motion around the sides of the mortar to coarsely grind the seeds, seaweed, and salt together.
  3. Transfer the ingredients to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark place. Keeps for up to three months.
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