Mastic

Overview Information

Mastic is a tree. People use the sap (resin) from the trunk to make medicine.
Mastic is used for stomach and intestinal ulcers, breathing problems, muscle aches, and bacterial and fungal infections. It is also used to improve blood circulation.
Some people apply mastic directly to the skin for cuts and as an insect repellent. In dentistry, mastic resin is used as a material for fillings. Chewing the resin releases substances that freshen the breath and tighten the gums.
In manufacturing, mastic resin is used in the food and drink industries and in the production of chewing gum.

How does it work?

Mastic might help reduce stomach acid and may protect the lining of the stomach and intestine. Mastic also contains a fragrant oil which could freshen the breath. In a test tube, mastic seems to fight bacteria and fungi.

Uses & Effectiveness?

Indigestion (dyspepsia) Taking mastic gum by mouth for 3 weeks seems to improve symptoms of indigestion, including stomach pain, upper abdominal pain, and heartburn.
Stomach and intestinal ulcers Taking mastic powder by mouth for 2 weeks seems to reduce symptoms and improve healing in people with intestinal ulcers. Also, early research suggests that taking mastic powder by mouth for 4 weeks improves these outcomes in people with stomach ulcers.
Crohn’s disease Early research suggests that taking mastic by mouth for 4 weeks improves symptoms and reduces test markers for swelling in people with Crohn’s disease. Stomach infection caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) Early research suggests that taking mastic gum for 2 weeks helps eliminate H. pylori infections in some, but not all, people 5 weeks after finishing treatment. However, taking mastic gum seems to be less effective at eliminating H. pylori infections compared to taking a combination of the drugs pantoprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin. Gum disease (periodontitis) Early research suggests that brushing with mastic essential oil-containing toothpaste using a sonic toothbrush for 12 weeks reduces plaque buildup, as well as swelling, redness, and bleeding of the gums, in people with gum disease better than using a sonic toothbrush alone.

Breathing problems - Muscle aches - Bacterial and fungal infections - Repelling insects - Improving blood circulation - Cuts, when applied to the skin - Other conditions

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of mastic for these uses.

How Mastic Is Used
Most seasoned chefs believe that it is better to buy mastic whole and then grind it yourself as you need it. There are several tools on the market that can be used to grind it, but the easiest is to use a small hand grater similar to those that are used to grind nutmeg. That way, you can quickly grind what you need it and store the rest of the gum in an airtight container away from heat and light until you need it. It is possible to find mastic online or in specialty shops, but if you’re in a pinch you can either omit it or use a little bit of vanilla extract or vanilla sugar.

Recipes that Use mastic
Mastic is commercially used throughout Greece in things such as chewing gum, toothpaste, and ice cream. Besides that, traditional Greek cooks use it in various baked goods, such as Tsoureki, the Greek Easter bread. There is also a type of traditional spoon sweet that uses mastic called gliko tou koutaliou that is popular on the island of Chios where mastic is cultivated. You can even put mastic in dishes such as Greek rice pudding if you have it on hand. Just add about 1/2 teaspoon ground mastic with sugar the next time you prepare your favorite rice pudding recipe.
Mastic has been used in Greek cooking for centuries but lately, it has become a bit of a trendy ingredient. Cooks all over the world are experimenting with the recipes and making things such mastic ice cream and cakes and cookies that are perfumed with it. This spice also combines well with other spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. If you find a recipe that uses it, it’s worth it to track it down.


Mastic

What is Mastic?

Though there a many varieties of mastic trees growing throughout the Mediterranean, it is on the Greek island of Chios that the production of gum mastic is centred with its Pistacia lentiscus chia variety. Chios became famous for its masticha, which derives from the Greek mastichon and is the root of the English word masticate, all meaning “to chew”.
Mastic is a resin extracted from the trunk of the mastic tree. The mastic drips out of the mastic tree trunk as if the tree were crying – so the resin is called mastic tears. Although mastic starts as a liquid, it hardens to the yellowish crystals shown above. Just like Champagne can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France, true mastic must come from a specific location – the Chios island of Greece.
You’ve likely already figured out that mastic was the original chewing gum and mouth freshener. As a hardened gum, the flavour is initially bitter, but after a few minutes of chewing takes on its gummy consistency and releases a mouth freshening flavour which remains for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Chios became a Latin colony in 1172 for nearly four centuries under the siege of the Venetians and the Genoeses who were the first to commercialize mastic. In 1566 the island fell under Turkish Ottoman occupation who considered the mastic production so important the mastic producing villages were given special privileges, forming a separate administrative region linked directly with Istanbul through elected representation. It is said that the women in the Sultan’s harem used mastic as a beauty cosmetic and Chios was under their protection. As with most valuable commodities, the penalties for stealing mastic were gruesome: noses cut off, eyes burnt out, forehead brandings and hangings. In 1821, after an attempted rebellion the Turks engaged in the terrible massacres which were immortalised by Delacroix’s famous canvas Massacres de Chios. The island finally ceded to Greece in 1913.

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How Is Mastic Used?

Have you ever seen a photo of chewed gum on a food blog before?
I don’t think I have.

Gum: Mastic is the original Winterfresh gum. Mastic has been used as a breath freshener for thousands of years. Pop a mastic crystal (or two or three) into your mouth and start chewing. The mastic will taste bitter for the first few seconds, but then it turns into a refreshing gum with a flavor that most closely resembles the scent of a pine forest on a winter day. The more you chew, the more the pine experience intensifies. After thirty minutes of mastic chewing, I felt like I was lost deep in the woods. The gum hadn’t shown any signs of flavor loss.
Sadly, since mastic is only produced on one small island in Greece, it’s too expensive for most of us to use as an everyday chewing gum. The small jar of mastic shown at the top of this post cost $11 and was kept behind the counter at my local international grocery store (they’ve had problems with people stealing it).
But, mastic isn’t only used as a gum…

How Is Mastic Used?

Mastic Powder: If you grind the mastic tears with a mortar and pestle, you end up with fine cream-colored mastic powder. Mastic powder can be used to flavor custards, cookies, and cupcakes. I’ll be posting soon about the Winterfresh cupcakes that I created using mastic. Not only are they unique and tasty, but after eating one, my mouth feels tingly clean.
When using mastic in powdered format, the small jar will go a long way and the $11 will no longer seem like such a large investment.

Mastic Gum

Mastic is a resin, the hardened sap from a tree. It appears as pea-sized globules, known as tears. They are rounded, pear shaped, sometimes oblong, with a brittle, crystalline texture. The resin is semi-translucent, pastel yellow or faint green at its best, white mastic being inferior. Sometimes the resin is frosted with a whitish powder.
There are two grades of mastic: the immaculate, first-class crystals ware called ‘dahtilidopetres’ (flintstones) and the soft ones with spots which are called ‘kantiles’ (blisters). Mastic may also be sold in congealed chunks called ‘pitta’. Although well known in the Balkans and the Middle East, mastic is not widely available elsewhere.
Bouquet: slightly piney. Mastic does not have a powerful bouquet, but purifies the breath. Flavor: a cedar taste. Hotness Scale: 0

Preparation and Storage

Pulverize to a powder before using. Pounding it becomes easier with the addition of a little sugar or salt.. Store in airtight containers.

Uses of Mastic

Mastic appears to have myriad applications ranging from the medicinal to the functional, including use as a stabilizer in paints and making varnishes, especially for musical instruments. It has been used in the production of tires, aromatic soaps, insecticides and electrical insulators. Frankincense is produced from gum mastic and rosin, and it has been used in the tanning, weaving and beekeeping industries. Mastic has been used in dentistry as a filling and in industry in varnishes for metal and paintings. In Arabia, water jars were perfumed with mastic smoke and in ancient Egypt mastic was used as an embalming agent.

Cooking with Mastic

Besides being used in toothpaste, chewing gum and confectionery, mastic is an ingredient in the making of liqueurs. A Greek grape spirit, mastiha, is flavoured with the resin, as is the Turkish liqueur, raki. It is essential in rahat locum, the authentic Turkish delight, and it is found in recipes for breads and pastries, ice creams, sweet puddings and almond cake. Mastic is also used as a binding agent with oil, lemon juice and spices to coat the traditional Turkish doner kebab — as the meat cooks, thin slivers are sliced off and served in pita bread.
In Greece the best mastic comes from the island of Chios. It is used in the baking of bread and pastries, and also for one of the traditional ‘spoon sweets’, gliko tou koutaliou. A spoonful of this gooey sweet followed by a glass of ice-cold water is marvellous in hot weather. In Cyprus, small rings of mastic-flavoured bread are topped with sesame seeds.
Mastic pounded with sugar and rose or orange blossom water is a popular flavouring in the Middle East, used in desserts, sweetmeats, ice cream, syrups and cordials. For most cooking puposes, mastic is pounded with a little sugar and mixed with rose or orange blossom water. Only small amounts are necessary, a quarter to half teaspoon sufficing for a dish for four people.

Health Benefits of Mastic

Stimulant and diuretic, mastic was widely used medicinally in the past and chewed to neutralise foul breath. Compound mastic paint is a plastic substance painted as a sealant over wounds. It has been used as a temporary tooth filling either by itself or as a cotton wool plug soaked with a mastic solution in alcohol. It is thought to have anti-microbial properties and Columbus believed it was a cure for cholera. The Gum Mastic Grower’s Association lists over 60 uses for mastic including its use in the treatment of duodenal ulcers, heartburn, its anti-cancer properties and extolling its aphrodisiac effects.

Plant Description and Cultivation

A Mediterranean shrub with dense twisted branches, 1-4m (3-l3ft) in height. The leaves are paripinnate with four to ten elliptical, glossy and leathery leaflets. It bears red berries in tightly packed clusters, which turn black on ripening. The resin occurs in the bark. Harvesting is from June to September. About 10 to 20 incisions (called “hurts’) are made in the trunk and main branches, and the resin is collected as It “weeps” in tears. About 100 cuts are made over the season, though “hurting” younger trees inhibits future yields. Over the month, the syrup coagulates as the gum mastic drips from the cuts and it is collected then rinsed in barrels and dried. A second cleaning is done by hand. At its prime, a tree will yield 4.5kg (l0 lbs) of mastic in one season.

Other Names

Lentisk French: mastic    German: Mastix    Greek: masti(k)ha    Italian: lentischio, mastice    Spanish: lentisco, mastique    Arabic aza

Mastika, or as we know it, mastic, is a resin derived from the Pistacia lentiscus tree. Nuggets of this dried resin are among the first recorded substances chewed by humans for its refreshing flavor, an early predecessor of modern-day chewing gum. (Mastic is the root of the English word “masticate,” which means “to chew.”) It’s sweet, fruity, herbal and very satisfying. To learn more about this ingredient, rarely seen Stateside, we turned to chef Dionsis Liakopoulous of NYC Greek restaurant 1633, who uses mastic to make standout desserts.

Where is mastic found?

Mastika comes from the Greek island of Chios, which has been known as “the island of gum” since the mastic tree was discovered there in 1822.

When is it usually harvested?

Mastic harvest takes place during July to October in a special procedure that takes the sap out of the tree.

Can you give me a little history of the use of mastic in Greek culture?

In Chios, during the Ottoman rule, this ingredient was worth its weight in gold. The penalty for stealing mastic was execution, by order of the sultan. The future of the mastic industry was threatened by a Chios forest fire that destroyed mastic groves in August of 2012.
When the gum is turned into a liquid, it is used in a variety of ways, from bread to dessert. It is also used as what we call a ypovrichio, a “Greek vanilla submarine” or “spoon sweet,” where you put the mastic gum on a spoon, dip it in water, and lick it for flavor like a lollipop.

Is this a flavor most Greek people are familiar with?

For most Greek people, the taste and flavors of mastic are very familiar and remind them of their childhood.

Is there any other fruit/ingredient you could compare it to? How would you describe its flavor?

The flavor reminds me of rose water, but it is hard to describe since it’s so unique.

What are some recipes/products popular today that use mastic?

The mastic ingredient is often used in a bread similar to challah, but sweeter and more aromatic. Mastic liquor is also often chilled and served as a dinner drink. And of course, I use it in the ice cream at 1633.

What inspired you to use it to flavor ice cream?

Back in Athens, I owned a family restaurant called Ypovrichio, where we served mastic as a complimentary dessert (the “spoon sweet” as described above). The first time I used mastic as an ingredient was in a chicken dish that became really popular at my restaurant. I combined mastic liquor with cream, peppers and garlic. At 1633, I have included mastic in the ice cream to give the people of New York City a taste of my memories from back home in Greece.

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