Mastiha (Greek: Μαστίχα Χίου) is the famous and unique branded product of the Chios island. It is the fifth largest Greek island, located in the North-East Aegean Sea and very close to the Asia Minor coast.
Since 1997, Chios Mastiha has been protected by the European Union as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product.
The origin of Mastiha
The Mastiha (Mastic) grows all over the Mediterranean. But, the special variety tree (Pistacia lentiscus) grows only in the south of Chios island, in 24 villages. They are also called „Mastihohoria“, which means „Mastiha villages“.
The founding of Mastiha villages dates back to the Byzantine era. But the Genoans set up the first company for the exploitation of mastic during their rule (1346-1566).
According to the tradition, the Mastic trees began to „shed the tears“, when the Romans took St. Isidore of Chios to be executed, in 251 AD. He was in agonizing pains and wept all the way along the road. His tears fell on the earth and became the fragrant mastic. And this is one of the reasons why mastic is also called „The Tears of Chios“.
Scarce rain, lots of sun and quartz soil texture are the perfect environment for the successful production of Mastic.
One story says that scientists have made an experiment. They brought a mastic tree to the United States and artificially created conditions like those in Chios. The tree was alive, but there was no fruit!
Production of Mastiha
The Mastiha tree is an evergreen shrub and it may be about 2-3 meters high. It grows very slowly and becomes ready for cultivation after 40-50 years. Only this variety produces natural ivory-colored resin or mastic, with specific flavor and aroma.
Mastic production is a complicated and laborious process. The trees are pruned and fertilized every winter.
They begin producing mastic when they are about five years old. Then the villagers clear the ground beneath the trees and cover it with white clay.
The Mastic is contained in the bark, not in the wood. So, during the summer, they make multiple incisions in the branches of the three on specific spots. And the resin starts to flow.
The resin speedily exudes and hardens into oval drops. After two weeks it is ready to be collected.
The collection begins in the middle of August and lasts for about a month. The mastic drops are manually washed, cleaned and sorted, piece by piece. After that, mastic is put onto the wooden boxes and dried in cold places.
The mastic drops are transparent, with a glassy fracture. Their form is like roundish teardrops about the size of peas.
Mastic uses in ancient times
In ancient times Mastiha was used because of its properties that are beneficial to human health.
Hippocrates used it for the prevention of digestive problems, colds and as a breath freshener. Roman emperors used mastic along with honey, pepper, and egg in the spiced wine. Digestive liqueurs made with grapes were known as Greek elixirs.
Also, Mastiha was used as the first natural chewing gum to clean the teeth and freshen the breath in the Roman era and during the Middle Ages. It was even used in cosmetology and as a spice during the Ottoman rule as well.
Mastic uses today
The entire production and cleaning process of Chios Mastiha is free of all chemicals and additives. And this process has remained unchanged over the centuries.
Scientific research has shown that Mastiha resin has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Mastic is used in the production of a wide range of products and exported throughout the world.
It is a raw material in food products, including baked goods, sweets, ice cream, chocolate, chewing gum, candy, Turkish delight, milk products, pasta, sauces, etc. It is also used as an ingredient for preparing various kinds of drinks, tea, coffee, liquor, ouzo, and wine.
Additionally, Mastic is an ingredient of dietary supplements, oral hygiene products, surgical sutures, compresses burns, dental floss, soap, cosmetics. It is used as an ingredient for the production of scented candles, essential oils, artists’ varnishes, and resin-based adhesives as well. In a word, very impressive, isn’t it?
The Mastiha project
The Mastiha Project is an effort to promote Mastiha’s uniqueness to the public worldwide.
This project started in 2016 on the Chios island, at the initiative of Dimitris Georgoulis, the owner of OZ cocktail bar, and his team.
In the project’s video-series, he replies to all the questions about what Mastiha is. Then, why it is unique and how it is cultivated. He talks about how it is incorporated into other products and how it is used in so many ways. You can see the video series here.
The aim of this project is to make people from the bar industry aware of natural mastic. One of the most popular presentations of this project was on 7th November 2017, during the Athens Bar Show 2017.
Traditionally Mastiha liqueur is served in cold shots, usually as a digestif after a meal.
So, if you visit Chios, come and enjoy what OZ cocktail bartenders prepare for you in the center of Chios town.
Try the cocktails with Mastic.
Some of them are Mastiha Sour, Go Vegan, Bitter tear, Black Peddles, TnT (Mastic Tear n Tonic).
Or, you can taste these cocktails in the OZ Salad basket.
It is a modern mobile cocktail bar which is now ready to travel all over Greece!
OZ Salad basket is also a major means of promoting the Mastiha project.
And mastic as an ingredient or raw material in the dining and bar area as well.
The Mastiha tears
Mastiha is a natural and rare tree resin.
The specific micro-climate conditions, natural environment, and traditional cultivation has remained unchanged throughout the centuries. So this is the combination that creates Mastic.
In a word, everything that makes Mastiha such a special and unique product in the whole world.