Tuesday, May 12, 2009
MAD FOR MASTIHA
Mastiha is aromatic resin that comes from the mystical Mastic tree in the pistachio family. Most of the trees grow on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. Though found in the Mediterranean and Middle East, it is only the Mastic trees of Chios that weep the sacred resin from their bark. Chios is the protected designation of origin for the Mastic spice, and is cultivated by rather chic south island co-ops. Resin seeps out of small cuts made into the tree’s main branches, is hand washed, and then sun dried. At this point the Mastiha is in small, translucent, yellowish resin balls, this is my favorite point. Pop a few of these in your mouth and indulge in ancient chewing gum, mentioned in the bible and treasured in sultan’s harems. Chewed for 30 seconds or so the resins becomes malleable, turns white, and exudes its powerful, intoxicating aroma. Mastic’s flavor is as resiny as you would expect but without bitterness, yet there is no sweetness, and while I would like to throw around words like pine, anise, and sage I think they may lead you astray. It’s very base, and has the light notes of a classic men’s cologne, and the deeply tickling notes of a juniper berry. It will send your mind wriggling to find flavor comparisons, but you wont find a match, and this will be the birthplace of your yearning passion for Mastiha. Even after leaving Greece Masticha would pop up now and again in Turkish delight and Dondurma (chewy Turkish ice cream), in sauces, spoon sweets, soups, toothpastes, pastries, liqueurs, lotions, and candies. The resin crystals are ground to powder in a mortar and pestle, and is often combined with sugar, but could be paired with rose water, fennel, cous cous, or whatever you fancy. Just as all good flavors seems to be good for you, Mastic is certainly no exception. In oil form it’s anti bacterial and anti fungal, and in chewing form it soothes the stomach and lowers cholesterol. Once you know Mastiha, any trace of it’s flavor will sound off bells in your head (and heart), and will be like bumping into a very dear friend in the most unlikely of corners.