Let's Learn about Mastic Gum
While mastic is widely known in the Balkans, the Middle East, and countries along the Aegean sea, it is largely absent in other parts of the world (see video above). Produced by lentisk trees, an evergreen shrub, "mastic is a resin, the hardened sap from a tree. It appears as pea-sized globules, known as tears" (2). Native to the Greek island of Chios, mastic was "the original chewing gum and mouth freshener. As a hardened gum, the flavor is initially bitter, but after a few minutes of chewing takes on its gummy consistency and releases a mouth freshening flavor which remains for about 15 to 20 minutes" (2). "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'" (2).
"Besides being used in toothpaste, chewing gum, and confectionery, mastic is an ingredient in the making of liqueurs. A Greek grape spirit, mastiha, is flavored with the resin, as is the Turkish liqueur, raki" (2). The flavor is also essential in lokum, the authentic Turkish delight, and it is found in bread 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" (2).
The most famous mastic comes from the island of Chios where it is used in bread baking and pastries and "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 marvelous in hot weather. In Cyprus, small rings of mastic-flavored bread are topped with sesame seeds. Mastic pounded with sugar and rose, or orange blossom water is a popular flavoring in the Middle East, used in desserts, sweetmeats, ice cream, syrups, and cordials." (2). When purchasing mastic online or at the market, "look for 'mastiha,' 'mastihi,' or 'mastic tears' and it might also be available in powdered form" (1). When adding the mastic to dessert, bread or pastries recipes, they will most likely call for mastic that has been pounded and turned into powder with a mortar and pestle.
Mastic production in Chios has an interesting past, "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" (2). Documents show that women in the Sultan’s harem consumed 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" (2). After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Chios ceded to Greece in 1913 where is still continues to be one of the top mastic producers globally. The unique essence of the mastic brings a distinct pine and woodsy flavor to any dish to which it is added. You can find mastic flavored gum at every convenience store in Turkey and while I was not initially reaching for a pack to put in my purse, now I have come to seek it out.
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