We’ve all heard of it, and many of us have tasted it, but do you know all there is to know about the masticha of Chios? What is masticha? It’s an edible aromatic resinous sap emitted from the special indigenous mastic trees of Chios (Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia) that grow only on the island’s southern side in the Mastihohoria (Masticha Villages). Coming out in the form of teardrops, masticha is harvested for use in food and beauty products, and is known to possess a number of unique qualities.
The Mastic Tree, also known as the Lentisk, is a resilient evergreen shrub that grows in rocky soil to up to 5 meters in height. Harvested since ancient times, these trees reach maturity at about 40 to 50 years of age, and while they are known to exceed 100 years in age, a mastic tree cannot be harvested before it reaches the age of five, according to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association. A tree can yield some 150 to 180 grams of masticha annually on average, and male trees produce more masticha. A Protected Designation of Origin product since 1997, masticha is used to make a variety of edible delights including chewing gum, masticha liquor, spoon sweets, pastries, and more.
So how is masticha harvested? Cultivators scratch at the bark of masticha trees with sharp tools. To cover these openings, the tree produces a clear and sticky resin. Some 15 to 20 days later when the mastic tears have acquired a more solid crystal form, they are collected and washed by harvesters. Mastic tears can be chewed as gum in their natural form, for can be used as ingredients in food and sweets.
Masticha has also been scientifically proven to provide a number of health benefits as well. Masticha oil is antimicrobial, and chewing masticha helps eradicate foul breath by eliminating pathogenic microorganisms and bacteria. It has also been revealed that masticha presents wound-healing properties and is good for skin, which is why it is used in specialty cosmetic products, including perfume.
So there you have it…those are just a few details on the wonderful masticha of Chios. If you’re up for it, why not try out a recipe influenced by this uniquely Greek flavor?
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