It’s astonishing to think that there are some 227 islands that make up Greece (one being a hidden gem for mastic). Each with its own distinctive traditions, foods, and flavors.
With its close proximity to Turkey, Chios is one of the most famous islands for its world-famous export: mastic.
What is mastic?
The name might sound familiar. That’s because mastic derives from the word ‘masticate’ also meaning ‘to chew’. Therefore, this might also give you a clue about the origin and purpose of mastic.
Hailing from Chios – the fifth biggest island in Greece – mastic is a resin that comes from the Pistaacia lentiscus tree. This evergreen shrub can be found throughout the island, with droplets of raisin formed.
These nuggets are then dried and used for a host of purposes in food and drink. Therefore, you might say it’s a sweet, almost fruity herb, which some liken to rose water. It used widely throughout Greece to this day.
It’s understood that mastic was discovered in the 1800s in Chios. Today ‘Mastihohoria’ still stands as a collection of medieval villages in the south of the country, that produce mastic – a quantity once worth its weight in gold.
For this reason, Chios has a rich history of invaders trying to profit from this locally-grown produce. A visit to the island displays this in its high fortress walls. A tour of Chios and the museums nearby is the perfect way to understand its colorful past.
Mastic can be chewed like gum, giving rise to Chios island being dubbed ‘the island of gum’. Back in the 1800s, this was the main way the product was consumed and is still used as chewing gum to this day, as well as a host of other purposes even including toothpaste!
Since then, mastic has also given rise to plenty of other uses, as follows:
Due to its sweet natural flavor, mastic is often used in cocktails. The resin has been distilled into a mastic liqueur which is often presented in ice-cold shots. You can expect this at the end of a meal in Greece as a digestif, especially in Chios.
Its fruity flavor is also the perfect offering for a cocktail infusion. As such, it works well with soda, tonic and other mixers. However, it equally blends well with other ingredients such as Cointreau and vodka.
For mixologists, mastic makes an uplifting alternative to classic serves, including a modern take on the mojito. Learn more about cocktail making with mastic, with mastic cocktail experience.
Firstly, Easter is a huge tradition in Greece, and a perfect excuse to get baking. Tsoureki is one of the famous Greek Easter bread staples, that has a light fragrant taste and covered in its trademark sesame seeds. Freshly ground mastic is the secret ingredient here, along with mahlab (a cherry based ingredient), which create its charismatic smell and taste.
The tradition of spoon sweets is a much-loved customary treat given to visitors in Greece. In other words, each island has its own take on this, using the seasonal locally-grown produce. In Chios, as you might expect, mastic features heavily in its version called ‘gliko tou koutaliou’.
With the warm weather in Greece, it’s no surprise that mastic has even found its way into ice-cream. Masthia ice cream, as it’s known (also kaimaki) is typically served in a cone with juicy cherries or toasted almonds on top. This is a local favorite which can be found all over Greece, including Varsos in Athens – a food lover’s dream!
For all those sugar cravings, the Greek classic sweet loukoumi (Greek delight) is world-famous. Mastic is a natural contender for this rose-flavored treat, often served up to willing guests as a touch of Greek hospitality at its finest! Get a bonus recipe here!