Molcajete question - have I been scammed?

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Joined Aug 7, 2006
HELP! :cry: I just went to Nogales, Mexico (super touristy) and I bought what I thought was a basalt molcajete. They had two versions down there. One was extremely porous and the other slightly less porous. I bought the less porous one and it has a carved, painted pig's head on the front. As I read more about the molcajete, I have come to realize that there is a "tourist" version out there that is a blend of concrete and basalt. How do I know what version I have?

Also, if I do have the concrete/basalt one, is it still OK to use? I've heard that it can get gritty... The picture below is from CMC company. It is the closest picture to what I have.
Thanks!!!

mex_mol2.jpg
 
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Oh FoxRiver-:(
I hate to break it to you, but you've got one of those made from concrete and basalt. Basalt it much darker, almost black with a very porous structure, but the stone is much harder.
You can identify the mixed and molded material molcajetes by the hard angle on the top edge. It's a giveaway that it has been molded, not carved.
I wouldn't recommend using it. The chemicals used to make the concrete adhere to itself are unlikely to be food safe and could leach toxins like lead into your food.
I'm sorry.
 
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foodnfoto, thanks! :cry: I had a feeling someone was going to break the bad news to me... oh well, better to ask. Can anyone recommend a place that has the true "basalt" molcajetes? I saw one advertised on gourmet sluth...are those the real ones?:confused:

I never thought this would be so complicated....
 
929
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Joined Jul 28, 2006
Well, you have a lovely souvenier of the trip. If I were you, I'd plant a cactus in it and put it on the windowsill, to ensure it won't get used for mashing guacamole. You can get the real thing online. Ebay has a number of authentic ones listed. Just type in molcajete.

Update:  The eBay offerings seem to have dwindled since my origian post.  However other sources for real molcajetes include Amazon.com, ShopTejas and Mexican Grocer.  Some offer free shipping, which considering the weight of these things,  is a real good deal. 
 
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Thanks for the info all!:talk:

I am located near chicago and I wonder if anyone knows if I could pick up an authentic molcajete at the Maxwell street market?? I've never been but I've heard that it is a great place to go? Does anyone know?
 
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I know this is a very old post, but I have the exact same question. I bought it from a store that didn't seem very touristy, but upon reading about all the concrete ones on the internet I figured I should check.

Here's a couple pictures of mine.



 
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It's really difficult to tell from the photo.  However, the exterior and interior appear to be lava-like,  while the top edge looks to have a much finer texture.  This makes me suspicious of the product's authenticity.  In recent years, imitations have been arriving in the US from questionable sources.  Some of them are cast from concrete,  then the exterior and interior are painted to look like the real thing.   

Basalt molcajetes may be either finely textured, or very coarse, but they will never appear to be fine-grained in one place and coarse in another.  True molcajetes may be made from basalt, which can be dark brownish, dark grey or even black, or they may be made from lava-rack, which is light to medium grey and softer than basalt.   Basalt is much harder than lava, and once seasoned the basalt molcajetes do not continue shedding grit into the food being ground. 

Maurera, I would not use this for food preparation before establishing the composition of the material. 
 
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The legs, the top, and several other parts appear too fine grained to be basalt.  My overall impression based on your pictures and the overall aesthetic of the piece is that it's cast and not carved. 

No criticism intended, but the cute little piggie motif might be seen in some quarters as perhaps -- how can I put this? -- una poquita gabacha.

BDL
 
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Well, *I* think your piggy is cute.  And if it comes from a mould, they would have had to break it to get the form out, use a mould that assembled in pieces or use a latex/flexible mould.  Not impossible but a little more difficult.  Also, there's lots of different types of basalt and they all have different textures, colors and densities so sometimes it's hard to tell what you're looking at.

That being said it really does look like a lightweight concrete mix with some admixture....  Why?

A.  Hard to tell from the photo but it looks like a pigment that's been added to give color

B.  It's very uniform.  Generally speaking stones aren't uniform.  Some are but they tend to be fine.  This one isn't fine.

C.  There's no sign of tooling.  There doesn't have to be if it was polished but this doesn't appear to be polished either.

Please don't take anything I see as definitive.  Just my initial impression.

ps:  what do the underside of the feet look like?  are they the same texture as the top?  If no then it's definitely not legit.  If yes then you might want to do further investigation.  Good luck!
 
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Thanks for the great feedback. That was my first post here and I'm impressed with how active the community is here. I took a bunch more photos (sorry for posting so many). A bit more info:

Store: I bought it from a store selling pottery in Mazatlan while on a road trip from Vancouver. It seemed less touristy because prices were a lot lower and while I was there I saw one man buy 30 plain drinking glasses and a woman who bought a bunch of napkin holders, both customers Mexican. I called back today and inquired about the Molcajete in pretty awful Spanish. I asked her "es de basolto o es de concreto". She said something that sounded like "pierne", but I've either spelled it wrong or heard wrong. I asked "es buen para cocinar?" and she said yes, and that I should "moler maiz" to season it (I've been using rice). She also told me not to polish it "no polido". If anyone here speaks spanish, the number of the store is 1-52-(669)-990-3550.

Physical: It's fairly smooth around the upper part on the exterior and the legs, but quite rough in the bowl section and on the bulbous part of the underside (this is best seen on the picture with the molcajete upside-down. There's almost a line where it goes from coarse to smooth (perhaps the upper section is easy to sand down, but the lower part can't be sanded as easily because the legs are in the way.) There are impression around the legs that are white where it looks like a tool might have been used. Next thing is that where I've seasoned it, it's become slightly darker.  note is that someone wrote "8" in permanent marker on the back. Perhaps the carver used that to identify how many he was making.

PS - I just looked at it again in sunlight and it looks very much like stone up close. There are small crystalline deposits that look similar to rocks that have small pieces of quartz embedded. There are quite a few with a greenish hue scattered throughout.

It weighs 12 pounds

Thanks again for all the help.







 
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Joined Jun 22, 2010
The second set of photos look much  better to me, particularly the 4th and 5th photos down from the top where you can really see the variation of the pore structure.  

Usually when you pour a concrete mix the top of the mold is going to want to "float" to make a smooth surface unless it's very high in aggregate.  But yours doesn't look like that.  Plus the color and texture is showing variation that would be hard to fake, IMO.  

We can only guess, but the second set of photos look like the real thing.
 
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Joined Jul 28, 2006
In the more recent pics this closely resembles the photos I've seen of the molcajetes Rick Bayless uses.  Also,  the tejolote (pestle) appears hand crafted of stone, and also the feet seem to be irregular as if hand crafted.  In addition,  I see no mould lines anywhere around the bottom, and no marks where such marks may have been "cleaned up".  The weight is also significant (although that could be faked with lead...eek).   Standing by itself, without the tejolote,  my molcajete weighs just over 5#.  It may be smaller than yours, and is of the much coarser stone, which I'm told is harder,  although lighter in weight. 

 Did this come with instructions for prepping the bowl before using?  If so,  have you been able to bring it to the point where it no longer sheds grit?   Agregates are too soft to ever stop shedding, so getting it to stop shedding is an important step in establishing its authenticity.  Instructions online vary,  but definately never use soap, detergent or bleach in your molcajete.  I scrub mine after use with plain water and a medium brush,  then grind some sea salt into it while it's still damp.   Salt is naturally anti-microbial.  If you feel a strong need for further sanitizing at any time,  you can place it into a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes. 

You may grind either dried corn or rice.  Use real raw rice,  not minute rice or Uncle Ben's.  The key is to keep repeating until no more grit appears in the fine meal you are producing.  Yes,  the bowl area will change color (develop patina) as you use the molcajete. 

Please keep us posted.  I would love for this to be a true piece that you can actually use in your kitchen,  and not just put on display.  Nothing compares to the taste of salsas, chutneys and guacamoles that have been prepared using the molcajete...and it make a wonderful serving vessel too.  Fiesta... OLE!
 
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Thanks for all the help.

@SockpuppetDoug: how do you know so much about concrete moulding?

@amazingrace: I think it's stopped shedding now after quite a few handfuls of rice. Man! It's difficult turning a handful of rice into powder. I tried making a rice tortilla with the powder by adding a bit of butter and some water, and it fried up alright but was too gritty (I think rice grit, not concrete grit)

I've tried a couple salsas now with great success - putting the garden tomatos to excellent use! Now to figure out how to make corn tortillas without a tortilla press or a cast iron pan.



 
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In re el molcajete

Glad to be wrong. 

In re las tortillas

You could form tortillas by patting the masa between your palms.  I can't.  But with little more than several decades of daily practice you could.  A  very thick, ropelike braid of grey (or black with a lot of grey) hair seems to help.   

A lot of people roll them out with a pin.  It helps to roll them between sheets of wax paper or slightly moistened cling wrap.  Turn them frequently as you roll to keep the edges smooth -- you don't want ragged edges.

It doesn't have to be a dedicated, cast iron comal, but you need a decent griddle.  A cast-iron, reversible Lodge, stove-top is great.  Aluminum, if it's heavy enough also works well.  Some electric non-stick griddles are plenty good, too. 

BDL
 
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I was hoping you all could help me as well to make sure my molcajete is authentic and not concrete. Here are some pics. I've already gone through about 5 rice grindings and 4 rock salt grindings. The inside is now definitely smoother than the outside but there are still quite a few deep holes (1/8") in the stone. Some of the visible white specks look like quartz or something but others are peices of rice that have lodged into the holes. Is this ok or should I keep grinding?  Thanks for any advice.







 
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