Greek plants: Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree), overlooking Finikas, Syros

14 Interesting Facts About Mastic (Plant Resin)

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Mastic is an aromatic resin obtained from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), used for centuries as a natural gum in foods, beverages, cosmetics, and medicines. This unique, crystal-clear resin has a pine-like flavor and fragrance.

Here are 14 intriguing facts about this ancient plant resin:

Interesting Facts About Mastic

PikiWiki Israel 80441 mastic tree
PikiWiki Israel 80441 mastic tree

1. Comes from the Bark of a Tree

Mastic is the resinous exudate of the mastic tree, a small evergreen shrub that grows in the Mediterranean region. To obtain the resin, horizontal cuts are made in the tree trunk, allowing the liquid sap to ooze out slowly and solidify into amber-colored teardrop shapes.

2. Has Been Used Since Ancient Times

Mastic has a long history dating back over 2,500 years to ancient Greece, where it was highly prized for its healing and culinary properties. References to mastic even appear in Greek mythology – it was reputedly a component of the food of the gods!

3. Was Chewed as a Natural Gum

On the Greek island of Chios, where mastic has been harvested for centuries, villagers would traditionally chew small pebbles of mastic resin as a refreshing, cleansing gum that promoted oral hygiene. They often wore strands of mastic around their necks for easy access throughout the day.

4. Has Antimicrobial & Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Modern scientific analysis has revealed that mastic contains active compounds like antioxidants and antimicrobials. This explains many of mastic’s traditional medicinal uses – from wound healing to fighting stomach and dental ailments.

5. Flavors Ouzo Liqueur

In Greece and Cyprus, mastic lends its distinctive flavor, aroma, and viscosity to a variety of alcohols, including ouzo – the classic anise-flavored liqueur. It provides the characteristic sweet licorice finish.

6. Thickens Turkish Desserts

In Turkish cuisine, mastic is used to thicken puddings, giving them a stretchy, gummy texture. These milk-based desserts flavored with mastic are called sakizli muhallebi. Sakizli means “chewy” in Turkish.

7. Creates Varnish for Violins

When dissolved in solvents, mastic forms a unique colorless varnish perfect for the porous wood of violins and other string instruments. This “mastic varnish” gives a beautiful, lacquered finish and enhances acoustics.

8. Produces Tears and Diamonds

Based on shape and clarity, mastic resin is graded into categories like tears (droplets) and diamonds (chunks). The highest quality is in the form of large, transparent, golden tears – considered the finest for eating.

TearsLarge, drop-shaped pieces
DiamondsSmall, irregular chunks
SeedsTiny round particles

9. Comes from the “Mastic Villages”

Mastic cultivation is centered on the Greek island village of Pyrgi on Chios. The intricate, geometric architecture of Pyrgi, with its medieval stone houses and labyrinthine streets, is a product of past mastic wealth.

10. Received GI Status in the EU

In 2014, Chios Mastic was registered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product in the European Union. This means only mastic from southern Chios can be labeled and sold as such within the EU.

11. Has a Mastic Museum

Located in Pyrgi village, this museum provides a comprehensive look at mastic’s history, cultivation, production, uses, and economic significance to Chios Island. You can see mastic-related artifacts like centuries-old chewing gum!

##12. Features in Middle Eastern Cuisine

The Arabian Peninsula and Levant region have a special affinity for mastic – it flavors savory stews, sauces, and meat rubs as well as sweet treats like puddings, cookies, and ice cream.

13. Used to Scent Cosmetics

With its mild and pleasant aroma, mastic oil made by steam distilling the resin is used to scent various cosmetics – including lotions, soaps, perfumes, and deodorants. It leaves skin and hair lightly fragranced.

14. Represents an Ancient Tradition

At a time when most natural substances are mass-produced, Chios Mastic production survives as a small-scale, time-honored practice passed down through generations. The slow gathering of resin crystals symbolizes thisĀ living piece of history.

So there you have it – a resinous gum as ancient as civilization itself! From its mythic origins and unique chemistry to its various culinary and cultural influences, mastic continues to fascinate. Hopefully learning about this aromatic gem gives you an appreciation for traditional foods and natural substances.

In summary, mastic is an ancient Greek resin with a piney aroma that has been used for millennia as a natural additive, medicine, and artisan material around the Mediterranean – though its ancestral home remains the “Mastic Villages” of Chios.

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