What is Mastic?

Mastic is the name given to the resinous gum that exudes from the scored bark of the Gum Mastic Tree. There are many varieties of mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus) in the Mediterranean and Middle East, yet most of the world’s production of gum mastic comes from the “Protected Designation of Origin” trees (P. lentiscus var. Chia) that grow on the Greek island of Chios. The name mastic derives from the Greek word mastichon which means to chew.

Mastic has a slightly resinous, pine-like flavour and can be chewed just like chewing gum. Mastic is used in cooking for the consistency it gives to Greek slow-cooked lamb, it is used in ice cream and in The Spice & Herb Bible there is a recipe for an Asparagus and Mastic Summer Soup.

Between June and September, Mastic farmers ‘hurt’ the trees by scoring the bark. The tears that ooze out in stalactite-like strands fall onto white kaolin clay that has been spread on the ground below the trees. This promotes drying and contributes to the clarity of the mastic that falls onto it.

Mastic flowing from the scored bark of a Chios gum mastic tree

Mastic flowing from the scored bark of a Chios gum mastic tree

In this grove of gum mastic trees you can see the white kaolin clay that is spread around the base of the trees prior to scoring the bark.

In this grove of gum mastic trees you can see the white kaolin clay that is spread around the base of the trees prior to scoring the bark.

The gathered mastic is then stored in cellars to further solidify, and during winter, families in the mastic villages clean and grade the resin into different sized ‘tears’ ready for sale.

Mastic stored in a cellar ready for cleaning and grading in winter.

Mastic stored in a cellar ready for cleaning and grading in winter.

Mastic 'tears'

Mastic ‘tears’

These are the mastic tears we sell at Herbie’s Spices.

Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition with over 120 new recipes by Herbie's daughter Kate.Source: The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill. Published by Robert Rose Inc. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.