What is Mastiha?
Mastiha (mas-tee-hah) is the resin secreted from the trunk and branches of the mastiha tree, or, the skinos tree--the variety that produces mastiha is the pistacius lentisc var. Chia.
This specific tree can be found only in ONE PLACE in the entire world—the Greek island of Chios, located in the Aegean Sea, a stone’s throw from Turkey.
And in Chios, the tree ONLY grows in the southern part of the island in 24 villages known as the mastiho-horia (mastiha-producing villages), hence recognized by the EU, as a P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) ingredient since 1997.
What are the 3 secrets to why mastiha grows only in southern Chios? They have tried to plant trees on the northern part of the island, and the trees grow, but they do not produce the same aromatic sap with all its wonderful healing properties!
Terroir and microclimate: The island of Chios is long and narrow, with high forested mountains in its northern section that retain moisture and temper the northerly winds. Thus the southern, hilly part, acquires a distinctive climate that is mild in the winter and very dry in the summer. The hot, arid summers in the Mastiho-horia allow the mastiha to dry and harden--the most crucial part of the harvest. Rain can wash away an entire harvest, and the trees cannot tolerate frost.
Eugenics: From the Greek word meaning "good genetics", the ancient cultivators of Mastiha tress would single out the trees that produced the most/the best resin. They developed and propagated them to grow new groves with the characteristics of the mother trees. Over the centuries, methodical eugenics created new species of the lentisc tree that is over-productive in mastiha.
Systematic cultivation and organized commercialization by the Chians is the 3rd reason why this magical ingredient grows only here. From ancient greek times dating back to 450 BC to modern times, Mastiha was as valuable a commodity as diamonds, and regardless of the "conqueror" of Greece at any time (either the Genovese or the Turks), Chios was always protected. Secrets of cultivation have been past down from generation to generation, and in 1938, The Union of Chian Mastiha Producers was founded as a compulsory collective " for the purpose of protecting the mastiha of Chios through the systemization of its production, collection, packaging, and joint distribution. This organization still exists today as the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association.
The Skinos tree, aka Pistacius Lentiscus var. Chia
The trees need 5 years to mature, to be able to harvest them for their resin.
The Ancient Superfood
First referenced in the historical writings of the Greek Father of History, Herodotus, in 450 BC, and first prescribed for medicinal purposes by the Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, Mastiha is one of the most ancient superfoods, that was renowned in the entire Mediterranean basin. Learn more in the Healing Properties, Fun Facts, and Applications portion of the site!
The World’s First Chewing Gum
The mastiha resin secreted from the skinos tree, drops to ground and crystallizes into little pebbles called “dakrya” , or “tears”. Mastiha tears were chewed in antiquity as gum, and it is still used today for oral hygiene. The modern day chewing gum from Mastiha is from a brand called ELMA, and can be purchased at the mastihashops. See "mastihashops" link on the site.
“ELMA” is the classic modern day brand of chewing gum made from mastiha, found at nearly every kiosk in Greece.
Mastiha’s fame as chewing gum goes so-far as to be the root of the word “to chew” in many languages
🇺🇸 English “to masticate”
🇲🇽 Spanish, "masticare"
🇮🇹 Italian, "masticare", and "gomma di masticare" means chewing gum
🇫🇷 French, "mastiquer"
The root of the word mastiha is said to have 2 origins: "mastichein", ancient greek, meaning to "gnash the teeth", and “mastigio” , which is a whip. The way the farmers makes incisions on the trees to harvest the mastiha, very much resembles a whipping action!
The average age of a mastiha farmer is 65, and getting younger, as the new generation returns to their roots to take up this long-standing tradition.