NEW YORK – Chios is well-known for many things, but most of all for its unique product, mastiha, which only grows in the Mastihohoria in the south of the island. An article in CNN Travel featured Chios and the Mastihohoria and discussed how mastiha is harvested from the trees (Pistacia Lentiscus var Chia) and highlighted the health benefits as well.
In ancient times, Hippocrates prescribed mastiha for digestive problems, colds, and as a breath freshener. Today, mastiha production in Chios is protected by a European Union protected designation of origin.
Chios Mastiha is a natural, aromatic, translucent resin produced from the mastic tree, a large shrub, which is only grown on the island of Chios and in fact, only in the southern part of the island. The word ‘mastic’ as Greek speakers know comes from the Greek word ‘mastichein’ which means “to gnash the teeth.”
Available in different forms – crystal, powder, capsules, oil and gum, Mastiha has been scientifically proven to have beneficial properties including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, wound healing and skin regeneration, digestive, and oral hygiene benefits.
Many are familiar with mastiha as an ingredient in Greek cooking, but the labor-intensive process by which the “precious drops” are harvested from the trees is perhaps not so well-known. Also, if at any point in the harvesting process it rains, the mastiha crop is ruined and it takes seven years before a new tree can be scored to draw out the mastiha, according to Eleftheria Koinari, Chios Mastiha Growers Association Functional Sales Coordinator in a previous TNH article.
“The EU has recognized mastiha as a traditional herbal medicine for digestive problems and the cultivation know-how has been declared a UNESCO intangible cultural monument of humanity,” research manager for the Mastiha Growers Association in the official mastiha shop in Chios Town Ilias Smyrnioudis, told CNN Travel, adding that “we export 90% of our annual production to 45 countries. You can even find mastiha in the American health food store GNC as a food supplement.”
Mastiha is also used to make a liqueur and Iakovos Konstantas, an award-winning mixologist from the Oz cocktail bar in Chios Town, told CNN Travel about an initiative to make mastiha-based cocktails more widely known. “This is an initiative by the Oz team to make mastiha known in the bartending scene by entering various competitions using mastiha cocktails. I love mastiha as a spice. Its flavor is earthy, bitter, grassy, woodsy,” he said, CNN Travel reported.
One of the cocktails Konstantas has created is called “Black Pebbles” and is “made from mastiha liqueur, sesame oil syrup, fresh ginger, cucumber with a touch of pickle juice and served in a glass with two round ice cubes and roasted sesame seeds on the rim,” CNN Travel reported adding that “it’s inspired by the Mavra Volia beach, where Pyrgi builders pick up the black sand for their sgraffito designs.”
“When I was in New York City recently, I went to the famous Angel’s Share bar in the East Village and there, 5,000 miles away from home, I spotted a bottle of mastiha liqueur,” Konstantas said, CNN Travel reported, adding, “give it five years and mastiha will be used all over the world!”
Konstantas’ international effort has already begun as he already started mixing mastiha cocktails in Edinburgh, Scotland, CNN Travel reported.