Do you know where chewing gum first came from? The answer is the Greek island of Chios, where the resin from the mastic tree is sun-dried into very pale yellow droplets. In Greek mastic is known as ‘tears of Chios’, due to the shape the droplets have. When chewed the crystals turn into a gum, which has bitter flavours at first then turns to a refreshing taste with undertones of pine and cedar.
Mastic is expensive due to its rarity – the tree is grown only on Chios, where it has European Protected Denomination of Origin. It is used as a flavouring in chewing gum nowadays in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, and apart from that is most commonly used in sweet foods such as Turkish Delight. However it is used in savoury preparations in Greece and Egypt as a flavouring, in things such as vegetable preserves and with meat, and in Morocco it is used in smoked foods.
Mastic has great medicinal qualities too, and it is still used today in the Middle East for its health benefits. It helps with digestion, it is high in antoxidants and it has historically been used as a breath freshener and tooth whitener.