Mastic: Not just for chewing….

Many years ago, archaeologists made a surprising discovery! It seems prehistoric men and women chewed on lumps of tree resin for pure enjoyment, making them the first-ever gum chewers in recorded history. The study of man has also found that almost every culture chomped “gum.”

The urge to masticate seems to be quite strong in the human animal, for Gum-Chewing has been popular in many cultures over the last two thousand years. The ancient Greeks chewed a gum obtained from the resin of the mastic tree. Our words “mastic” and “masticate” are both derived from the Greek word for “chew.”
Mastic, or Masticha, which is a 100 percent Greek product, is not produced in any other part of the world except for Greece. More specifically, Masticha is produced only in the southern part of the island of Chios in the 24 villages and communities known as “Masticho-Choria” (literally “the mastic villages”). It is a natural crystalline resin, with white or ivory shade, under the form of round-shaped of irregular grains. It has unique flavor and distinctive aroma, which are characteristic of this product. It is product of Protected Designation of Origin and is collected, cleaned and packed in accordance with the laws and regulations of the European Union that are applicable to the food items and the quality stamp of the Chios Masticha Growers Association and consumed all over the world.
Though they may live to be more than 100 years old, mastic trees don’t begin to ooze resin until after their fifth year and remain productive until after they reach 70. The resin usually takes 10 to 20 days to crystallize and the first harvest in the second half of August yields bigger tears. The second harvest lasts from mid-September until mid-October or the first rain storm, while cleaning the crystals for processing may last until pruning time. 

It is also used in making varnishes and adhesives. But the most important thing about mastic today is that scientists are confirming what earlier savants had observed and Hippocrates had pointed out: mastic is good for myriad ailments. For example, a research team from the UK’s Nottingham University has found that even small amounts of mastic can destroy the helicobakter pylori bacteria, which only a decade ago was recognised as the prime cause of peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

Furthermore, mastic adhesive bandages heal rather than hurt your skin, as do mastic-based surgical sutures; mastic appears to be able to lower cholesterol levels, it has anti-inflammatory properties, acts as an antioxidant (smoothing wrinkles inside and out) and may even offer protection against arteriosclerosis. Yesterday’s panacea is looking increasingly like tomorrow’s wonder drug. It may even raise gum-chewing out of the gutter and back into polite society. And to think that it’s completely natural.

Besides being used in toothpaste, chewing gum and confectionery, mastic is an ingredient in the making of liqueurs. The list is endless… The range of gum mastics beneficial properties has been known since antiquity.
Today is used in various fields:
  • It is found that mastic gum is active against Helicobacter pylori (the mechanism responsible is not yet clear), Which could explain its therapeutic effect to patients suffering from peptic ulcers?
  • The effects of gum mastic on diabetes, cholesterol and triglycerides are being researched by universities in Greece and abroad.
  • Gum mastic is used in ointments for burns, frostbite, external skin affections and in the preparation of plasters.
Applications and Surgery
  • The gum mastic of Chios, as well as its by-product colophon, is used to make surgical thread for suturing (Such stitches are absorbed by the skin and do not have to be removed).
  • To attach bandages, the drug Mastisol (made in USA) containing gum mastic is used, as this ingredient does not irritate the skin in the application of bandages and it also sterilizes the wound.
  • Gum mastic helps to ensure dental hygiene also strengthening the gums and cleansing the mouth, which is why it is an ingredient of toothpastes and mouth washes.
  • It is an ingredient in fillings of cavities, crowns and gaps between teeth.
  • The aromatic liquid eugenol, which is contained in gum mastic oil, is used as a dental antiseptic and Analgetic.
  • Gum mastic oil is used as a perfume and a stabilizer of perfumes.
  • Gum mastic oil is a basic ingredient in facial creams as it both cleanses the face and brightens the complexion. It is also used in other cosmetics.
  • Gum mastic can be served on a spoon “submerged” in a glass of cold water (called “submarine or Ypovrichio”) and it also used in preparing of other confections such as candy as well as in glazes. It is also the prime ingredient in Tsourekia, Greek Easter bread.
  • The drink ‘Masticha’ is consumed as an aperitif while there is also a Masticha liqueur. As an ingredient it is contained in many other alcoholic beverages.
Industrial Products
  • Gum mastic and its by-products are excellent paint stabilizers especially in artists’ paints.
Recipe – Ypovrichio
The submarine desert or the “Ypovrichio” is a treat that is served in almost every Greek household. It is generally served on a tablespoon that is plunged in a glass of water. Here in Greece it is quite popular in the summertime, and it keeps well in the refrigerator. I received this recipe on a trip to Nafplio. It is full-proof and one of the easiest deserts and/or treats to make. After trying out this recipe and adding your own flavourings (such as dried fruit and/or nuts) you will never buy the commercial type again I am sure.
  • 50 gr. of water
  • 150 gr. of thick corn syrup
  • 220 gr. of white sugar
  • 1 tsp of Mastic powder or 2 tsps of Mastic essential oil
  • 2 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice
1.   Add all ingredients aside from the mastic and vanilla in a pot and boil at a high heat until your mixture begins to thicken heavily. Sample your mixture by extracting some liquid and dropping it in cold water, if a teardrop is formed then the mixture is ready. Remove from heat immediately.
2.   Allow mixture to cool for at least 10 minutes and then put it in a food processor, or grab your mixer and at a low speed begin beating the liquid. Add the vanilla and mastic and continue to beat at a slow speed until it begins to change color and become white. The more you beat it, the whiter it will get.
The recipe can be doubled and/or tripled easily for gift giving as well. Also, you can add food coloring and give it more character, just remember that if you do it needs to be beaten at least a further 3 minutes so the color is distributed evenly. Enjoy!
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