Chios is one of the biggest islands in the Aegean Sea and is renowned for its mild climate, beautiful beaches and numerous historical monuments. But above all, Chios has been famous worldwide since ancient times for its mastiha. Chios Mastiha is a variant of mastiha, which has a protected designation of origin status in the EU.
That is why mastiha gave its name to the medieval settlements of Southern Chios, described as Mastihohoria (meaning Mastiha villages). The foundation of those settlements dates from Byzantine times. Despite the damages and disasters, they have gone through for so many centuries, they are still cultural heritage monuments.
Mastiha is harvested from the mastiha tree (Pistachia lentiscus var. chia). This small evergreen shrub grows to about two to three meters on rocky terrain on the southern part of the island of Chios. This tree takes fifty years to reach maturity and can be harvested for mastiha from its fifth year onwards. In South Chios, there are around 24 villages that deal with mastiha tree growing and production.
Although the mastiha tree can be found around the Mediterranean Sea, the variety that produces the aromatic mastiha sap only grows in the southern part of Chios and nowhere else in the world. Chios mastiha has also been certified by the Agricultural Products Certification and Supervision Organisation as part of the Hellenic Ministry of Rural Development and Food.
It is a natural, aromatic resin in a teardrop shape that falls on the ground in drops from superficial scratches induced by cultivators on the tree’s trunk and main branches with sharp tools. UNESCO has included the know-how of cultivating Mastiha on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. From ancient times until today, little has changed in the mastiha production process, which unbreakably connects it to the historical tradition of Southern Chios.
The mastiha tree is a relatively resilient plant with minor demands, so it grows well on arid, rocky and poor soil. Its roots are spread on the soil's surface and can survive in conditions of absolute drought. On the other hand, be extremely sensitive to cold and frost.
Mastiha is used for therapeutic purposes and in cooking and baking- ranging from medicinal to functional ones- but did you know it is also a stabiliser in paints and making varnishes, especially for musical instruments? Besides being used in toothpaste, chewing gum and confectionery, mastiha is an ingredient in making liqueurs.
It is mainly found in Greek recipes for bread and pastries, ice creams, pies, almond cakes and the traditional Greek spoon sweets (glyká tou koutalioú).
Nowadays, it has been gradually revealed by the scientific community, through accurate and scientifically acceptable methods based on laboratory research and clinical studies carried out by independent researchers in Greece and abroad, that natural Chios mastiha is gifted with unique beneficial and therapeutic properties, thus confirming what has been historically recorded over the past.
More precisely, scientific evidence has confirmed mastiha’s beneficial action against disorders of the peptic system, its contribution to oral hygiene, its significant antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action, and the fact that it constitutes a natural antioxidant and anti-cancerous agent. In addition, Chios mastiha contributes to wound healing and skin regeneration.
*Images and article (partly) sourced from gummastic.gr