Chios Mastic: The Island’s Precious Product
If you have ever heard anything about Chios Island, chances are you have also heard about its world-famous product – the mastic. In Greece, mastic is known as the “tears of Chios”, because it has the form of droplets or “tears” and is traditionally produced in Chios.
The mastic is a natural resin with distinct properties and multiple applications. It is obtained from the mastic tree, formally known as Pistacia lentiscus. The first references to mastic are made by Herodotus (5th century BC), who reports that the Greeks used to chew the dried resinous liquid flowing from the mastic tree bark. Chios Mastic was the first natural chewing gum in the ancient world.
The exact composition of Chios mastic is not yet known however it has been shown that mastic and mastic oil contain at least 70 substances that exhibit numerous medicinal properties. The mastic contains alpha-mastihorestin, β-mastihoretin, essential oil, tannins, mastichin and mastic acid, unique terpenes such as α-pinene, β-mycene, β-caryophyllene, limonene and polyphenols.
The production of the mastic is a process that continues throughout the whole year. The harvest takes place from the beginning of July to the beginning of October. Farmers make 5–10 incisions in the mastic tree trunks every few days to release the resin. It takes about 15–20 days for the first resin crystals to harden and fall to the ground. Then farmers collect the droplets of dry mastic. The dry mastic drops go through months long washing, sifting and cleaning process. The farmers spend most of the winter cleaning and separating the tears from the sand, all by hand.
There are more than 24 Mastic villages that cultivate the mastic resin in Chios. Many attempts have been made to produce mastic from this plant in other parts of the globe, but without result. Scientists have not yet found out why mastic does not grow in other parts of the world but it is likely due to the unique climate of Chios. It should be noted that trees from the mastic family are also found in other Mediterranean countries, but only in Chios there are mastic shrubs.
Mastic has been classified as an exclusively Greek product and since 1997 is a Protected Designation of Origin product (PDO).
You can visit the Mastic villages and witness the production process with our Mastiha Experience tour.
Mastic is also widely used in food and drink products and cooking. Here is a bonus dessert recipe that uses mastic, if you want to bring a breath of Chios air to your kitchen:
BONUS RECIPE: Panna Cotta with Mastic
This recipe comes from the excellent book “Getting to know the Greek superfoods” published by Diopter.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours
For 4 people
200 grams of fresh milk
50 grams of brown sugar or equivalent stevia
4 sheets of gelatin
200 grams of dairy free cream
1 fresh vanilla
5 grams of chios gum in granules
10 grams of brown sugar or stevia
In a mortar, put the mastic grains together with the 10 grams of sugar and shred them very well until they become powdery. Sugar will help the mastic to rub and not stick. In a small saucepan, heat the milk with sugar, fresh vanilla and grated mastic.
Put the jellies in a bowl of cold water and let them soften. Drain them very well and pour them into the saucepan. With the confectionary, wire mix well and add the cream. When the mixture cools down, put it in the refrigerator until it cools down for hours. Serve the pancake with strawberry jam.