Interesting Facts About Mastic

Posted by Lalit Kumar on Saturday, November 17, 2012

Long before there was chewing gum, there was mastic. The oldest recorded references to mastic go way back to the 5th Century BC. Soon after its discovery, the people of Ancient Greece started using mastic as a chewing gum to whiten their teeth! 

What exactly is mastic? Also known as Arabic gum, mastic is a substance that is extracted by chipping the branches of the mastic bushes. This yellowish substance looks a lot like rock candy and has a characteristic taste and chewiness that makes it an ideal addition to certain dishes and desserts including Turkish Delight. The Lebanese use it in their ice creams, sweets and cheeses and other Arab countries use it to make breads, cakes and soft drinks too. 

Mastic is only produced on the island of Chios in Greece. What is interesting to know is that the mastic tree does not grow anywhere else in the world except for this little island in the Agean Sea. This is not for any lack of trying. Many people have tried but have not succeeded in growing this tree in any other country, not even in the neighboring countries or islands. 

The Legend Behind the Tears of the Mastic
In Chios, the mastic tree is known as ‘The Wounded Tree’ and the mastic that is collected is called ‘tears’. In the raw form, mastic is available as ‘small tears’ and ‘large tears’.  There is an intriguing medieval legend that explains the reason behind the names. According to this legend, the trees began crying uncontrollably when the Romans severely tortured Agios Isidores on their island. Their tears fell as this particular substance that we now call mastic. By the time Christopher Columbus visited Chios in the 15th century, mastic was already a firmly established trademark of the island. 

While on the one hand the tree has been a huge boon to the island, it has also caused it a lot of grief as it has been a hotbed of several wars and invasions between conquerors who fought to take control of the island simply because of these unique trees. 

Real V/S Imitation Mastic: There’s a Huge Difference 
You will find several variations of mastic being sold in stores everywhere. This is usually not the original product but is simply an imitation that is extracted from almond and pine trees and sold off as cheaper alternatives to the real thing. At Hashems, we only store genuine mastic that comes directly from the island of Chios. Those who have tried the real stuff know the difference and would never settle for using any substitute. 

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Hashems Nuts and Coffee Gallery is a Middle Eastern Foods company. Our main offerings include: Turkish Coffee, Roasted Nuts, Middle Eastern Spices, Baklava, Fresh Baked Pita Bread and many other traditional specialty foods.