Botanical Name : Pistacia lentiscus

Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Pistacia

Other Names:
French: mastic
German: Mastix
Greek: masti(k)ha
Italian: lentischio, mastice
Spanish: lentisco, mastique
Arabic: aza
Species: Pistacia lentiscus
Bouquet: slightly piney. Mastic does not have a powerful bouquet, but purifies the breath.
Flavour: a cedar taste.
Hotness Scale: 0

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.
Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) is an evergreen shrub or small tree mainly cultivated for its aromatic resin on the Greek island of Chios,. It is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberia at the east through southern France and Turkey to Syria and Israel in the west; it is also native on the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from a Phoenician word or from the Greek verb mastichein (“to gnash the teeth”, origin of the English word masticate) or massein (“to chew”).

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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”. 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.

Mastic resin
A hard, brittle, transparent resin, also known as mastic (or mastix), is obtained from the tree. The resin is collected by bleeding from small cuts made in the bark. When chewed, the resin becomes bright white and opaque.

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Mastic resin is a relatively expensive kind of spice, used in liquors (mastica alcoholic drink) and chewing gum pastilles. It is also a key ingredient in dondurma, a Turkish ice cream, and Turkish puddings granting that confection its unusual texture and bright whiteness. It was the Sultan’s privilege to chew mastic, and it was considered to have healing properties. Mastic is also used for pastry making, drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, cosmetics such as toothpaste, and lotions for the hair and skin and perfumes. It is also used in preparation of Turkish Delight.

It is used in cooking of many dishes in Egypt, ranging from soup to meats to dessert. It is also chewed as a gum to sooth the stomach.

The resin is harvested from incisions in the main branches of the tree dropping onto specially prepared ground under the branches. The harvesting is done during the summer months between June and September. After the mastic is collected it is washed manually and spread in the sun to dry.

The aromatic flavoured resin, used commercially, come from mastic trees grow in the south of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, where it is also known by the name “Chios Tears”.

Spice Description
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.

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.

Mastic gum is principally used either as a flavouring or for its gum properties, as in mastic chewing gum. Chios’s native drinks, Mastichato, a smooth sweet smelling mastic liqueur and mastic-flavored ouzo, are made from “Chios Tears”. In culinary uses, it can also be enjoyed in baking and in sweets such as biscuits, mastic ice cream, and mastic spoon sweets. In its refined form it is also used as the primary ingredient for toothpaste, shampoos and perfumes.

People in the Mediterranean region have used mastic as a medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for several thousand years. The first century Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides wrote about the medicinal properties of mastic in his classic treatise De Materia Medica (“About Medical Substances”). Some centuries later by Markellos Empeirikos and Pavlos Eginitis also noticed the effect of mastic in the digestive system.

Attributed Medicinal Properties
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.

Medicinal use:

Stimulant, diuretic. It has many of the properties of the coniferous turpentines and was formerly greatly used in medicine. Of late years it has chiefly been used for filling carious teeth, either alone or in spirituous solution, and for varnishes, and in the East in the manufacture of sweets and cordials. In the East it is still used medicinally in the diarrhoea of children and masticated to sweeten the breath. The most effective oil for treating varicose veins is mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), but it is very expensive and ill smelling. A good substitute is cypress oil. A blend for external use can be made by combining several essential oils: 10 drops cypress or 5 drops mastic; 10 drops lavender or geranium; 5 drops rosemary or juniper; and 5 drops chamomile. A massage oil can be made by adding 15 drops of this essential oil blend to an ounce of carrier oil, which should be rubbed gently into the legs several times each day. Always massage above the varicose area. For hemorrhoids, mix one tablespoon KY jelly to 10 drops of the essential oil blend, then apply.
In recent years, university researchers have provided the scientific evidence for the medicinal properties of mastic. A 1985 study by the University of Thessaloniki and by the Meikai University discovered that mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5 percent. A 1998 study by the University of Athens found that mastic oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Another 1998 University of Nottingham study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claims that mastic can heal peptic ulcers by killing Helicobacter pylori, which causes peptic ulcers, gastritis, and duodenitis. However, a more recent study from 2003 shows that mastic gum has no effect on Helicobacter pylori. Another research from 2003 also shows similar findings.

Apart from its medicinal properties and culinary uses, it is also used in cosmetics and high grade varnish.

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Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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