Mastiha, or mastic, is a crystal, resinous spice and natural chewing gum that hails exclusively from Chios, where it has been produced since antiquity and long known for its medicinal value. It is highly aromatic and therapeutic — excellent and scientifically proven as a salve against stomach ulcers, effective as a gum in promoting oral health.
But it is n the kitchen that Mastiha is most versatile. In Greek traditional cuisine, mastiha is used in bread-baking and and to give flavor to certain pastries, especially Easter cheese pastries found in the Aegean islands and in cookies, biscuits and koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies). But as a contemporary chef I have taken much inspiration from the way modern Greek colleagues use mastiha to create new dishes. For one, it marries perfectly with myriad other ingredients, from chocolate to fish, thus evincing how incredibly versatile it is.
Mastiha is, indeed, one of the most seductive spices in the Mediterranean. It is faintly reminiscent of pine and has a deep, almost musky aroma. It is definitely Greece’s most exotic spice.
To use it, you need a mortar and pestle. Pound a few crystals with a little salt, if you’re making a savory dish; and with a little sugar if you’re preparing a sweet.
Do not pound mastiha in a spice grinder or food processor because its gummy, sticky nature will ruin the blades!