One of Greece’s most precious natural resources is without a doubt Mastiha (μαστίχα in Greek), a sap-like substance produced only by trees found in the southern region of the island Chios located in the Aegean Sea. Mastiha is prized as a rare and extremely beneficial product of nature and it boasts many known benefits such as nourishing skincare, gastrointestinal health and good oral hygiene.
Even so, mastiha with its sweet, aromatic, licorice-like flavor is used in few dishes – mostly desserts – in Greek cuisine. It is more well-known for flavoring spirits and liqueurs and even more so for its gum properties. But this precious culinary find deserves so much more attention in the kitchen, which is why I chose to center this Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 around mastiha and highlight this unique ingredient by using it in each dish. Here’s a look at what I made:
*Greek Pizza – Homemade Dough with Mastiha-Tomato Sauce, Crumbled Feta and
Shrimp Sauteed in Ouzo
*Pork Keftedes flavored with Mastiha
*Scallop and Shrimp Ceviche with Ouzo and Mastiha
*Sauteed Lamb Chops served with a Mastiha Bearnaise Butter
*Fennel, Green Beans and Squash Sauteed in Olive Oil, Mastiha and Ouzo
*Ekmek Kataifi with a Mastiha-Flavored Custard, topped with freshly Whipped Cream and
a Pistachio Spoon Sweet
I was thrilled to cook this meal and even more so to share it on Foodbuzz with the hope of familiarizing you with an amazing ingredient that remains relatively unfamiliar. But before I get to all these delicious (if I may say so myself) recipes, I’d like to share some background on mastiha with you.
The aromatic, ivory-colored resin known as mastiha, is harvested from wild evergreen shrubs (Pistacia lentiscus) grown in the south of the Greek island of Chios, where mastiha has been dubbed “Chios Tears”. The name “Chios Tears” aptly describes the clear resin that flows from the bark of these lentisc trees (as they are also known). The liquid, tear-like resin is sun dried and solidified into brittle but translucent crystals. When chewed, however, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The average annual yield per lentisc tree is 150 to 180 grams of mastiha.
Now, before creating a meal using mastiha I just had to pay a visit to MastihashopNY on Manhattan’s eclectic Lower East Side to meet the store’s owners, learn some more interesting facts about mastiha and purchase the finest quality mastiha products on the market. So one afternoon last week, I did just that. I went into the city and down to Orchard Street (just off Delancey) and paid a visit to this magical little shop owned by sisters Artemis and Kalliopi Kohas.
Born to parents who were born and raised on the island of Chios, Artemis and Kalliopi enjoyed a childhood steeped in mastiha. So it was only natural for them to become actively involved in the mastihashop project set forth by Greece’s Cooperative of Mastiha Growers about 10 years ago. According to Artemis, “We loved the idea that this ancient resin is hand cultivated; run by a cooperative; is a renewable sustainable resource, therapeutic and also gourmet. [Mastihashop] encompasses all the things we love in a lifestyle concept store!”
Artemis and Kalliopi see themselves as ambassadors for mastiha here in the United States–since 2002 the chain opened seven shops in Greece (one in the city of Athens, another in Athens’ Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, on the island of Chios, on the island of Crete, on the island of Lefkada, in the city of Thessaloniki and another in the city of Volos) but it wasn’t until 2007 the shop here in New York City opened its doors under the direction of these driven sisters and it still remains the only location here in the states.
“We are here to educate consumers on mastiha which is relatively unknown in the U.S. market,” Artemis shared. ”Everyone who comes in the store and is introduced to the resin, is intrigued by some aspect of it because of its versatility. Some people are drawn to its therapeutic attributes, especially for oral hygiene and treatment of digestive troubles–acid reflux and ulcers. Others love the taste and the many creative culinary possibilities. There is something for everyone’s personal styles and tastes at mastihashop!”
Walking into MastihashopNY you’ll see shelves neatly lined with everything from mastiha toothpaste, to mastiha-infused skincare products, mastiha gum, mastiha-infused olive oil, mastiha flavored Loukoumia, mastiha flavored coffee and the latest line of products including a multitude of savory delights from boxes of trahanas with mastiha, to jars of skordalia, melitzanosalata, olive tapenade and kopanisti flavored with mastiha and various pastas also accented with the distinct essence of mastiha. Kalliopi agreed that traditionally mastiha is found in just a few Greek desserts and it is only now gaining attention in the culinary world for its endless savory possibilities as well … and she admitted that she’s the sister that enjoys experimenting with mastiha in the kitchen too!
You can easily order products from the shop’s online store, but if you live in New York or if you’re a foodie visiting this amazing city, I urge you to stop by this culinary gem for some special foodie treats. Feel free to visit MastihashopNY’s site for more information.
I’m excited by the larger role mastiha can take in the culinary scheme of things and hope some of these dishes I concocted will entice you to try this mesmerizing ingredient soon. So, please stay tuned for recipes and photos of all the dishes I created using magical mastiha for this Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 meal … I’m sure you’ll be seeking out this very Greek treasure soon after! Kali Orexi!