How Mastic is Used in Greek Cooking

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Heap of mastic tears of ChiosMastic is one of those Greek spices that doesn’t get a lot of press. Outside of Greece, it can also be fairly difficult to find so many Greek cooks found that they had to adapt many of their traditional recipes so that they don’t depend on mastic. However, this spice is so unique that it is worth tracking down because there really is no comparison and the flavors are hard to describe. In fact, cooks outside of Greece who can’t find mastic often just leave it out. Here’s more information about this spice:

What Mastic Is

Mastic is actually the dried gum of the mastic, or Pistacia lentiscus tree. When you buy it, it is either sold already ground up or in hardened, resinous chunks. The trees are actually cultivated because its resin is so highly prized. There are those who believe that the best mastic comes from the Greek island of Chios. The resin is hand collected by workers in July and August. After it is dried, the resin is packaged and shipped to places throughout the world. Many describe the flavor of this spice as being a cross between licorice and pine with hints of vanilla.

How Mastic Is Used

Most seasoned chefs believe that it is better to buy mastic whole and then grind it yourself as you need it. There are several tools on the market that can be used to grind it, but the easiest is to use a small hand grater similar to those that are used to grind nutmeg. That way, you can quickly grind what you need it and store the rest of the gum in an airtight container away from heat and light until you need it. It is possible to find mastic online or in specialty shops, but if you’re in a pinch you can either omit it or use a little bit of vanilla extract or vanilla sugar.

Recipes that Use mastic

Mastic is commercially used throughout Greece in things such as chewing gum, toothpaste, and ice cream. Besides that, traditional Greek cooks use it in various baked goods, such as Tsoureki, the Greek Easter bread. There is also a type of traditional spoon sweet that uses mastic called gliko tou koutaliou that is popular on the island of Chios where mastic is cultivated. You can even put mastic in dishes such as Greek rice pudding if you have it on hand. Just add about 1/2 teaspoon ground mastic with sugar the next time you prepare your favorite rice pudding recipe.

Mastic has been used in Greek cooking for centuries but lately, it has become a bit of a trendy ingredient. Cooks all over the world are experimenting with the recipes and making things such mastic ice cream and cakes and cookies that are perfumed with it. This spice also combines well with other spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. If you find a recipe that uses it, it’s worth it to track it down.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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