Mastic (schinos) or Pistacia lentiscus is a local product of Chios. Its name derives from the ancient Greek verb mastichao (Greek: μαστιχάω), literally meaning “I grind with my teeth”. It has a wide range of uses and is recognised as a natural medicine by the European Union. Mastic is available in hard form, fine form, in powder form and as mastic oil. It has been designated as a Protected Designation of Origin product since 1997.
Mastic, also known as The Tears of Chios, has been cultivated for the past 2,500 years in Greece. The Tears were first mentioned by Hippocrates in ancient Greece.
The plant thrives in other Mediterranean countries as well, however, in the south part of the island of Chios and exclusively in 24 Mastic villages, a special variety of Mastic named Chia is cultivated, from which the natural resin is obtained. It is worth mentioning that several unsuccessful attempts to produce mastic have been made in other parts of the world.
The mastic tree is an evergreen shrub that can get up to 2-3 meters high and grows fully after 40-50 years, reaching 5 meters. The special characteristics of the region’s soil and microclimate (limited rainfall, sunshine, calcareous soil) along with the traditional cultivation, explain the uniqueness of this resin that is excreted in the form of tears by the plants’ trunk and large branches, with superficial incisions made in the bark of each tree by the farmers to release the resin.
Local farmers cultivate their fields, pruning the skins starting from December until the spring equinox. At the end of May they clear the base of the trunk (tables) from the grass and leaves. Soil preparation for production begins in June. By July the tables are sprinkled with inert calcium carbonate and in mid-June incisions are made to release the resin. Next step is the collection of thick mastic made in August, while fine mastic crop follows in September. In early November the product is sieved, washed and cleaned piece by piece, and then goes on sale.
Chios mastic is plant with antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities, while it also reduces the amount of lipids and glucose in the blood cells. It also helps in stomach disorders (e.g. Crohn's disease, gastritis, gastric ulcer and indigestion) and is useful for the gastrointestinal tract, while it is also used for skin problems and has a healing effect. Mastic also inhibits cell proliferation and prevents the evolution of the cell cycle, i.e. has anti-cancer activity.
Mastic is a high-calorie food, but it does not contain any fat or salt, and is low in sugar. On the contrary, it is a high-fiber and high-carb food. It also improves high blood pressure, diabetes, as it can lower blood sugar level. In addition, it increases HDL ("good") cholesterol and total cholesterol while lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. It also helps fight Helicobacter pylori.
Due to all the aforementioned beneficial properties, Mastic should be consumed in concentrations greater than 20 μg/ml.
Mastic is used in the perfume and cosmetics industry -for making shampoos, shower gels, soaps, body and face creams-, in the distillery, in cooking and in confectionery where mastic powder is used as a taste improver of products such as Turkish delights, chewing gums, candies, confectionery, pastries, buns, cookies, ice cream and bread. It can even be enjoyed along with alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.
As a beverage it aids digestion. Its most common form is liqueurs, while it can also be found in rakomelo and ouzo. Mastic oil can may be consumed as well. However, the most popular form of mastic, is chewing gum! By chewing it the hygiene of the mouth improves significantly. Mastic be enjoyed as well as an ice cream flavor.