If you happen to participate in a quiz about Greece, you might hear questions about mastiha or the English name mastic, for example:
1. Which is the name of the ice-cream made with “mastiha?
a. kamaki, b. kaimaki, c. kalamaki (*see below for the explanation of the words) 2. Which island is famous for the production of “mastiha”?
a. Kos, b. Lesbos, c. Chios
Some Omilo students are very familiar with “mastic”, other students never have heard of it. Nowadays, mastiha is used in many shapes and ways, but what is it actually? For all those who would like to know more, here a “Greek success story”, very few people know about.
Mastiha is a product that comes from a tree called “pistacia lentiscus var Chia”. The sticky secretion, the resin, has the color of old wax and might not seem very special, but it has become a product that is known and wanted all over the world. Apart from its unique taste, it has been shown by scientific research and been documented since the antiquity that Mastiha is beneficial for the health.
When a mastiha tree produces the resin, locals often refer to it as “tears”, or the “crying mastiha tree”!
Traditionally, mastic used to be a natural chewing gum with a woody-resin flavor. Now, it is used in products from food to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Amongst other Greek products (e.g. cheese), Chios Mastiha is protected by the European Union as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product. Mastiha is only produced on the island of Chios where it has suitable ecological conditions to grow the trees. Since those trees are very difficult to grow and to produce mastiha, the product is rather expensive. Locals even say that if a mastiha-producing tree is replanted in the north of the island, it won’t “cry”.
When you “eat” mastiha the traditional way, as a chewing gum, you take a few pieces of the resin, let them moisten in your mouth and then chew on them like a chewing gum. Even if the taste is a bit bitter in the beginning, keep chewing and after a while you will taste a light herbal flavor. Nowadays Mastiha is used in much more ways: from candy to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
As mentioned before, mastiha also has a presence in Greek cuisine. A very popular Greek ice-cream, called “kaimaki“ contains mastic and can be found all over Greece. It looks like vanilla ice-cream but has a very different taste. Generally in Greece, many sweets have Mastiha as one of the ingredients, for example: tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread), rice pudding and loukoumi. With the Mastiha liqueur, you can also make fantastic cocktails. In Turkey, where Mastiha is used in desserts and drinks, it is called “sakiz”, the Turkish name for Chios. In Egypt, it is used to add flavor to soups.
You will now be able to answer the two quiz questions and next time you might buy an original Mastiha gift from the many Mastiha Shops all over Greece (Also in the Athens airport there is an excellent Mastiha Shop. A good idea for last-minute gifts before leaving Greece!).
(*) After reading the information above, you now know the answer is : “Kaimaki”
For your information :
kamaki = “harpoon” but mostly used metaphorical: Kamaki is the word for a Greek male that spend most of his time in tourist areas to “fish for” girls, in the hope to have a love affair or sex soon!
Kalamaki = straw! Something you need daily in Greece to drink you ice coffee, fresh fruit smoothie or cocktail!