Mastic (Greek:μαστίχα) (Pistacia lentiscus) is an evergreen shrub or small tree of the Pistacio family growing up to 4m tall which is cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios. It is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberia in the west through southern France and Turkey to Syria and Israel in the east. It is also native to the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from the Greek verb mastichein ("to gnash the teeth", origin of the English word masticate) or massein ("to chew").
For reasons that are not entirely understood, only the trees in the southern part of the island of Chios produce the distinctively flavoured resin. The island's mastic production is controlled by a co-operative of villages, collectively known as the 'Mastichochoria' (Μαστιχοχώρια), which are located in the southern part of Chios.
Within the European Union, Mastic spice production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin (PDO) and a protected geographical indication (PGI) name.
The aromatic, ivory coloured resin, also known as mastic (or mastix), is harvested as a spice from the cultivated mastic trees grown in the south of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, where it is also known by the name "Chios Tears". Originally liquid, it is sun dried into drops of hard, brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum.
The resin is collected by bleeding the trees from small cuts made in the bark of the main branches, and allowing the sap to drip onto the specially prepared ground below. The harvesting is done during the summer months between June and September. After the mastic is collected it is washed manually and spread in the sun to dry.
Mastic resin is a relatively expensive kind of spice, that has been used, principally, as a chewing gum, for at least 2,400 years. The flavour can be described as a strong slightly smoky, resiny aroma and can be an acquired taste.
Mastic is known to have been popular in Roman times when children chewed it, and in Medieval times it was highly prized for the Sultan's harem both as a breath freshener and for cosmetics. It was the Sultan's privilege to chew mastic, and it was considered to have healing properties. The spice's use was widened when Chios became part of the Ottoman Empire, and it remains popular in North Africa and the Near East.
Mastic gum is principally used either as a flavouring or for its gum properties, as in mastic chewing gum.
As a spice, it continues to be used in Greece to flavour spirits and liquors (such as Chios's native drinks of Mastichato & mastica), chewing gum and a number of cakes, pastries, spoon sweets and desserts. Mastic resin is a key ingredient in Dondurma] (Turkish ice cream), and Turkish puddings granting those confections its unusual texture and bright whiteness. In Lebanon and Egypt, the spice is used to flavour many sauces, ranging from soups to meats to desserts, while in Morocco smoke from the resin is used to flavour water. In Turkey, Mastic is used as a flavor of Turkish delight.
As well as its culinary uses, Mastic continues to be used for its gum and medicinal properties. The resin is used as a primary ingredient in the production of cosmetics such as toothpaste, lotions for the hair and skin, and perfumes.
Mastic resin is also chewed as a gum to soothe the stomach. People in the Mediterranean region have used mastic as a medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for several thousand years. The first century Greek physician and botanist, Dioscorides, wrote about the medicinal properties of mastic in his classic treatise De Materia Medica ("About Medical Substances"). Some centuries later Markellos Empeirikos and Pavlos Eginitis also noticed the effect of mastic on the digestive system.
In recent years, university researchers have provided the scientific evidence for the medicinal properties of mastic. A 1985 study by the University of Thessaloniki and by the Meikai University discovered that mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5 percent. A 1998 study by the University of Athens found that mastic oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Another 1998 University of Nottingham study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claims that mastic can heal peptic ulcers by killing Helicobacter pylori, which causes peptic ulcers, gastritis, and duodenitis. Some in vivo studies have shown that mastic gum has no effect on Helicobacter pylori when taken for short periods of time. However a recent and more extensive study showed that mastic gum reduced Helicobacter pylori populations after an insoluble and sticky polymer (poly-β-myrcene) constituent of mastic gum was removed and taken for a longer period of time. Further analysis showed the acid fraction was the most active antibacterial extract, and the most active pure compound was isomasticadienolic acid..
- Pistacia lentiscus L. at Mansfeld's Database Taxonomy
- Pistacia lentiscus distribution at Germplasm Resources Information Network
- Mastic at e-xios.gr Chios Portal
- EU PDO/PGI registration
- BBC - Radio 4 - Woman's Hour -Mastic
- Monotherapy with mastic does not eradicate Helicobacter pylori infection from mice by Michael F. Loughlin, Dlawer A. Ala’Aldeen, and Peter J. Jenks
- Mastic gum has no effect on Helicobacter pylori load in vivo by James R. Bebb, Nathalie Bailey-Flitter1, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen and John C. Atherton
- In Vitro and In Vivo Activities of Chios Mastic Gum Extracts and Constituents against Helicobacter pylori by Sotirios Paraschos, Prokopios Magiatis, Sofia Mitakou, Kalliopi Petraki, Antonios Kalliaropoulos, Petros Maragkoudakis, Andreas Mentis, Dionyssios Sgouras, and Alexios-Leandros Skaltsounis
- Mastic Gum Kills Helicobacter pylori by Farhad U. Huwez, Debbie Thirlwell, Alan Cockayne, Dlawer A.A. Aladeen
- a pilot study on antiplaque effects of mastic chewing gum in the oral cavity K. Takahashi, M. Fukazawa, H. Motohira, K. Ochiai, H. Nishikawa, T. Miyata, J. Periodontol. 74(4):501-5, Apr 2003.
- Could Mastic Help Prevent Alzheimer's? by Will Block, Life Enhancement Magazine