Thursday, 31 May 2012

I’ve eaten it, drunk it and driven past it, but I’m yet to see a Mastic



The tears of lentisk, as locals call the gum extracted from Pistacia lentiscus (the Mastic), find their way into all sorts of edible products on the island of Chios, part of Greece but only eight miles from the coast of Turkey. I’ve eaten mastic ice-cream, sucked mastic lollies, munched on mastic biscuits and downed a shot of mastic liqueur.


In between digesting mastic I am attending the sixth meeting of Eurogard – not, as I’m fond of saying, an insect repellent but a three-yearly meeting of the botanic gardens of Europe. Today we left the darkened lecture theatres in the Homerian Centre to see some native plants on the north of the island. 

The island boasts 1260 different kinds of vascular plant, although only one endemic, Fritillaria pelinaea. Many species are restricted to the local region or western Mediterranean of course. All very pretty and perhaps some subjects for future posts.

Today, though, it’s all about Mastic, native throughout the Mediterranean (through to Canary Islands in the west and Iraq and Iran in the east) but closely associated with island of Chios for many centuries and now enshrined in a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). So there; apparently the trees of Chios are the only ones to shed the tears of lentisk when the bark is cut.


A little after Homer’s time, the Ottomans occupied Chios in the 16th century, to either free the island from Italian control or to harvest the Mastic, depending on your perspective. Lately tourists have arrived to either enjoy Mastic or soak up the Mediterranean weather and life style, depending on your perspective.

Mastic grows and is harvested mostly in the southern part of the island and thusfar I’ve only been to the middle and north. However I’m sure we drove past a plant on the roadside between the airport and town.

The aroma travels with you, particularly when you’ve eaten something containing the product. It tastes like the sap smells when you cut something like the Pepper Tree (Schinus molle), which just happens to be in the same family – Anacardiaceae. 


Whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of taste. Let’s just say I bought some quince and almond delight instead of this Mastic flavoured variety. And as Tim Upson said, you sometimes think these regionally flavoured delicacies taste wonderful in situ but they lose all their positive attributes when eaten back home.

Images: The food products are from the ‘Citrus’ store at Argentikon, a restored 15 century estate with a wonderful citrus garden/orchard, the liqueur is from a food tasting event in the city square of Chios (sampled by Suzanne Sharrock and Matthew Jebb)  and the illustration was hanging on the wall of the city library (founded by the owner of a previous owner of Argentikon, I think).


Postscript (as comment): I have now seen, photographed and touched Mastic. Last night we drove through fields of olives and mastic on the way to Elata, in the middle-south of Chios, for the conference dinner. The meal was free of Mastic but the countryside full of it. Is good.

2 comments:

Tim Entwisle said...

I have now seen, photographed and touched Mastic. Last night we drove through fields of olives and mastic on the way to Elata, in the middle-south of Chios, for the conference dinner. The meal was free of Mastic but the countryside full of it. Is good.

Bom said...

Good for you. So if Mastic is available to be eaten, it is nowhere to be seen but if it is not for dinner it is seen all over? Uncanny! Maybe because everything was harvested and process in the first instance? ;-P