Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Greek Gum

In Greek: μαστίχα
Mastiha starts as a semi-transparent sap from lentisk trees (actually evergreen bushes) found only in certain areas of the Greek island of Chios. As resinous granules, it was the original chewing gum, and the name "mastiha" is the root word of "masticate," meaning "to chew."
At the market, look for "mastiha" or "mastic tears" and it might also be available in powdered form.
Mastiha is used as a spice in sweets and cooking, as a flavoring for liqueurs, and in soap-making, cosmetics, and toothpaste, among others. Recent evidence of its positive effect on ulcers has resulted in a boom in purchases by large pharmaceutical companies.
Pronunciation: mahs-TEEKH-hah
Also Known As: gum mastic
Alternate Spellings: masticha, mastica
Examples: Mastiha has been recognized for its antibacterial properties.

Culturekiosque Staff Report
NEW YORK, 6 January 2007—The Greek island of Chios lies just five miles off the Turkish coast in the northern Aegean Sea. The purported birthplace of Homer and Hippocrates, Chios is best known as the world's exclusive source of mastiha, or mastic, a crystalline resin produced from the bark of the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus ) that has been cultivated there for millennia.
Originally used as a type of chewing gum to clean the teeth and freshen the breath and in cosmetology as a skin cleanser, its medicinal properties were first documented by Dioscorides (1st Century, B.C.), who is generally considered the "father of pharmacology". The Greek physician and botanist praised Chios Mastiha for its therapeutic effects on digestion, blood reproduction, chronic coughing, and for its tranquilizing and aphrodisiac effects.
Today, scientific studies have documented Mastiha's benefits in the treatment of digestive disorders. For example, a research team from the UK’s Nottingham University has found that even small amounts of mastic can destroy the helicobakter pylori bacteria, which only a decade ago was recognised as the prime cause of peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. It has also been shown to be a natural anti-oxidant and aids in trauma healing and skin regeneration—much as it does for the mastiha tree itself.
It is, however, in the culinary world that Chios Mastiha is best known. Traditionally brought out of the cupboard on Christmas and Easter, to be pounded as a seasoning in holiday breads and biscuits, the musky, slightly piney, incense-like spice is also exported and used by chefs and food producers worldwide. Mastiha flavours Greek cakes and breads, sweets, ice-creams, chocolates, scented cream desserts, jams, liqueurs and aperitifs such as the traditional ouzo mastiha.
In New York for an afternoon of recipe demonstrations, Greek celebrity pastry chef and author Stelios Parliaros skillfully created several desserts that proved the gastronomic versatility of this ancient resin. The two most striking, the delicious and robust Melomakarona (Greek Honey-Nut Cookies) with Mastiha and the rich, strangely Byzantine, Dark Chocolate - Mastiha Frozen Mousse are reproduced here.


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