The mastic tree is an evergreen tree, which belongs to the family Pistachia and can reach up to 2-3 meters. The mastic production begins in the fifth to sixth year of the mastic tree, or schinos as the locals call it.
This mastic-bearing tree, as old as the earth, which holds and nourishes it, has cast its shadow on the Chian land for centuries. Around its production, homes were set up and societies formed with particular cultures and traditions, leaving indelible marks over the centuries.
In Greece, extensive use of mastic is made in the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages, and especially various kinds of liqueurs and ouzo. The liqueur "Chios Mastic" and the drink "Mastic Ouzo" are well known Greek drinks. The Arabs scent their drinking water by burning mastic in it. The mastic gum is used in sweets, pastries, delights, cookies, ice cream, cakes and biscuits. The "mastic sweet" which is well-known, is served in a strange way called "submarine", because it comes submerged in a glass of water.
The mastic gum is also used as a condiment. In Cyprus and Saudi Arabia and in other Arab states, it is used to add flavor to the bread. In Lebanon and Syria, housewives prepare a traditional type of cheese that takes its special aroma and taste from the mastic it contains. The Arabs consider it a sample of large luxury when one can flavor dishes, desserts or even milk with mastic, a fact which can probably be attributed to references to this practice that exist in their sacred texts.
The "kendos" and the harvesting of mastic
The preparation of the mastic tree and harvesting of mastic is very strenuous work starting in June when the soil beneath the mastic tree is cleaned. Following the cleaning of the soil, it is meticulously covered with a special white soil, which has been finely sifted. Then begins the "embroidery" in the trunk of the tree, which is done with sections that are 10-15mm long, repeated once a week for 6-8 weeks. The number of sections varies from 20 to 100 depending on the age and size of the tree. Mastic is slowly leaking from the incisions in the form of teardrops. Most of the quantity produced falls onto the sifted white soil and takes 15-30 days to become solid, depending on weather conditions.
Other Uses of Chios Mastic
Mastic is also used in the making of cosmetics and perfumes (creams, shampoos, etc.), lithography, painting, beverage making, weaving, cotton manufacturing, and in some sectors of industry. In dentistry it is used in order to strengthen the gums and for oral disinfection. Mastic is also used in gourmet cooking and baking (in delight making, and in mastic candies, Mastichato cheese, and bread).
Mastic as a medicine
In recent years mastic has resurfaced as a medicine, used in pharmacology and medicine to treat diabetes, cholesterol, and stomach pain. In a medical conference (Athens 1999) it was announced that mastic, apart from its other beneficial properties, can also cure stomach ulcers. It has also been found to have anticancer properties, which have not yet been fully applied, as they are still being researched.