There are many exotic spices in the world but the mastiha of Chios is truly special. The mastic tree, from which it comes from, can only grow on this Aegean island.
The Mastiha of Chios: What is Mastiha?
During specific times of the year, the splicing open of a rare tree called Pistacia lentiscus makes it “cry.” What is happening is the tree sap is slowly flowing out in tear like drops. When the “tears” are exposed to the air, they dry. They then harden, hitting the ground to be collected, sorted and cleaned. The product, called mastic or mastiha, is a resin that has a taste described as refreshing with a slightly pine or cedar-like flavor. It has incredible health and beauty benefits, and that’s what makes it so valuable.
While many have tried, mastic cannot be produced in any other part of the world except in Greece. Mastic trees can, in fact, grow in other parts of the world but the only place where they produce resin is in Chios. Even on the island of Chios itself, these special trees can only grow in the southern part of the island in more than two dozen villages known as mastichochoria which means the mastic villages. Mastic is truly special.
Mastiha of Chios: A Precious History
The cultivation of mastic trees started during ancient Greece when Herodotus, the first historian, noticed their resin in the fifth century BC. Mastiha’s importance grew from there. Dioscorides, a first century pharmacologist, accounted for its health benefits. During the Roman Empire, upper class women used beauty creams infused with mastiha. The trend continued into the Byzantine Empire, and mastic products were only available to the rich.
Under Ottoman rule, it was used for its health and beauty benefits by the Sultan as well as his royal harem. In 1822, during the start of the Greek War of Independence, the mastiha trade from Chios halted and that was considered one of the top reasons for the brutal reaction by the Sultan.
Mastiha for Health, Beauty and Cooking
Today, the mastiha of Chios is proven to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antimicrobial qualities that are great for the skin. It is known to on reduce oiliness on the skin, and has a tightening effect to prevent wrinkles as well as give skin a healthy glow. The non-dermatological health benefits include whitening teeth and strengthening gums. It is also known to be a digestive aid, a way to cure stomach aches and gastric ulcers and it can lower cholesterol. It has also been recommended as an aphrodisiac since Ottoman times.
Mastiha’s incredible qualities do not stop there. It was also the first gum, chewed for thousands of years to cure ailments and prevent cavities. The English word masticate, which means to chew, comes from the chewing of mastic gum.
Mastiha is also used in cooking and combines well with cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. As a spice, it can be added to sweet bread, cookies, cakes and puddings. It is also a popular ice cream flavor in Greece.
Travel to Chios: Mastiha and Much More
Besides unraveling the incredible history of mastiha, there is much to see on Chios including Anavatos, a Byzantine village, where granite cubic homes cling to a cliffside. On Chios, you can admire the precious mosaics at the Nea Moni Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nature lovers head to northern Chios where the landscape around Mount Pelinaio is simply stunning, from trails to secluded beaches. The culinary delights of Chios are varied and delightful. From local butter and cheeses such as mastelo, Chios is also the home to special mandarins, local liqueurs, fantastic wines, traditional sweets and main dishes that comprise of the freshest fish and seafood.
Also, if you visit around Greek Easter, Chios is where you’ll experience the special tradition called “Rocket Wars.” Curious about that? Check out our earlier post, Easter Traditions on the Greek Islands.
Mastiha of Chios has won the world over for its amazing benefits, a superb natural product that is 100 percent Greek that can only be produced in Greece. Have you ever heard of mastiha?