fbpx
Menu
Greece / Libations of the World

Mastiha: A Unique Herbal Spirit from Greece

Cover photo from Skinos Mastiha Official Website

Mastic trees
Image from Skinos Mastiha Official Site

What would you say if you had to describe Greeks in just a few words? We would say they are some of the most hospitable people we have come across in all our travels. Tourism is a major industry in Greece, but that doesn’t always translate to feeling appreciated and welcomed as a guest. One of the most striking traits in Greece is in most restaurants, especially local places, you will be provided at least one and, maybe, several times a free food or drink at every meal. That was our experience not only on the mainland but on Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete.

It expresses their appreciation for your patronage, a gift of sorts to say thank you. In our most recent travels in 2021, we were often greeted with a complimentary appetizer. At the end of the meal, we would then be given a complimentary small carafe of liquor and dessert as they left the check. These offers of kind hospitality were always welcome and lovely. In all our travels so far it is unique to Greece.

Our Introduction to Mastiha

During Joelle’s first trip to Greece with her sister, the liquor given complimentary at the end of the meal was almost exclusively Mastiha. (Our 2021 trip was a mix of Mastiha and Vinsanto.) We never missed out on trying something new; so we went for it not even knowing for sure what we were trying. It was quite a shock the first time. Imagine drinking tree bark when you were least expecting it. Technically that is what you are drinking. To our surprise, we quickly came to enjoy it and were disappointed when it wasn’t provided at the meal’s end.

Mastiha is created with tree resin from the Mastiha tree that grows on the island of Chios, Greece. The unique climate on the southern end of the island is the only place in the world the aromatic resin of this quality is cultivated. There is quite a story to this unique herbal liquor with its magical qualities. As you look closely, there are Mastiha products everywhere in Greece. From candies, elixirs, cough drops, digestive aids, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, gum, sunscreen, skincare, coffee, cereal bars, a culinary herb…..you get it. The Greeks love their Mastiha; in any form, they can get it.

What is Mastiha?

Image from Skinos Mastiha’s official site

Mastiha starts as a semi-transparent sap that solidifies in yellowish tear-drop blobs. It’s native to the southern side island of Chios in Greece. There have been attempts to graft such trees in Italy, Turkey, and even in northern Chios with no success. It is due to the combination of the volcanic soil of southern Chios, an exceedingly dry micro-climate, and perfected eugenics over generations where only the best-yielding trees were propagated.

Sold whole or ground, mastiha is used as a flavoring in cooking and as a fragrant, refreshing additive to cosmetics and personal hygiene products. It is also found in paint and varnishes, mastic is added to such products for its oily properties and color.

You may have already had some without realizing it. It is extensively used in Eastern Mediterranean and Arab cuisine in desserts, pastries, pudding, candy, fruit preserves, and to flavor beverages like tea or coffee. Mastiha can be used in both sweet and spicy dishes as a spice. It is popular in meat dishes with lamb, fish, poultry, and goat. It can even be used as a natural chewing gum (mastic gum). When ground and mixed with sugar or salt, mastiha is excellent for adding flavor to savory or sugary preparations.

What does it taste like?

Musky and aromatic, mastiha has a distinct and refreshing earthy flavor of wood, fresh trees, and pine. It sounds strange, but trust us it is quite good. When drinking the Mastiha spirits, that is precisely how you feel, refreshed.

History

For almost 3.000 years, the power of mastiha has been around. It has spread throughout the world through emperors and adventurers. Mastiha has traveled to Genoa, Istanbul, Athens, and worldwide as a culinary delicacy also known for its excellent digestive attributes.

The English word “masticate” comes from the Latin adaptation of the Greek word “to chew,” which is mastichein. Back in the day before toothpaste, the wealthy would chew mastiha to fight plaque and freshen their breath.

Chios Island

Chios
Windmills at Chios Island-Greece Photo from Skinos Official Site

The Island of Chios is the fifth largest of the Greece islands in the northern Aegean Sea and is known for the unique and rare phenomenon of Mastiha cultivation. For centuries, the local economy has prospered by cultivating lentisc trees that produce the aromatic “mastiha” resin. Mastiha is a resin retrieved from the mastic evergreen, a shrub of the species Pistacia lentiscus. Native to the Greek island of Chios, mastiha has a tear-drop shape when solidified, earning the name “drops or tears of Chios.”

Chios is not only known for its Mastiha but also its medieval villages, beautiful beaches, and fertile soil. It is a prosperous island known for its wealth due to its strong economy tied to mastiha. It is about a 35 minutes flight from Athens international airport.

To learn more about Chios Greece, check out Chios Island Official Tourism site

What is the Mastiha tree?

Mastiha tears
Adobe Stock Image

Mastiha trees are known as the “Crying Tree.” They are predominantly only cultivated in one place in the world: the small island of Chios. The unique microclimate is the only one that can produce the aromatic resin needed to make Mastiha spirits. Harvesting takes place only one time per year during June and July. The process consists of several “prickings” and it takes several weeks to extract mastiha teardrops. The tree is like “crying out” the Mastiha resins that take 10 to 20 days to get solid and collected.

Attaining the resin

About 24 villages in southern Chios Island are known as the mastiha villages. The tree is pruned during the winter months to keep its round shape. This is so the resin can be collected most efficiently. Spring brings the back-breaking work that is required to harvest the resin.

The farmworkers prepare what they refer to as “the table” by weeding a round area below the mastic tree and sweeping it. They then spread limestone to create a flat surface where the resin will fall and congeal but not dissolve. They then make shallow incisions starting from the bottom and going to the top; the bottom produces thicker droplets and the top finer ones. About three to four weeks after the incisions are made, they collect the drops from “the table” and pick those remaining on the trunk. If it rains even once, the mastiha resin will be lost.

They gather their resin crop in the fall and clean it by sifting, washing, and removing impurities.

The Mastiha Process

Once the resin is harvested, Mastiha is carefully transferred in wooden coffins covered with boat textiles to a cool warehouse. There the village residents pick out only the highest quality resins and clean them by hand. It is a thoughtful and tedious process.

The distillation process begins when Mastiha is mixed with fine alcohol (quality matters) and is put in bronze tanks – called an alembic, which is then heated by fire. This process results in a delicate extract with a unique aroma.

The next step is the blending, which occurs when fine quality sugar, alcohol, and mineral water are added to compliment the mixture and create a distinctive and balanced clear white Mastiha spirit. The spirits are bottled ideally in high-quality glass bottles and corked with a natural cork.

UNESCO and Protecting the Mastic Trees

Mastiha trees
Mastic tree garden in Chios island, Greece Adobe Stock Image

Though mastic trees grow all over the Mediterranean, only the variety in the unique microclimate of Chios’s southern area produces the unique aromatic sap from which the liqueur is made. Mastiha was given the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from the EU, and UNESCO recognizes its traditional harvest as a living heritage of humanity. The EU has also recognized mastiha as a traditional herbal medicine for digestive problems.

In August of 2012, disastrous wildfires spread across the island of Chios, scorching over 31,000 acres of land. As a result, more than half of the island’s mastic orchards were destroyed. Because it has a protected designation of origin from the EU, the fire not only impacted Chios farmers, who lost almost 60 percent of their crops, but it also seriously impacted the global supply of the mastiha.

Fun Fact

The trade of mastiha took a big hit after 1900 when Thomas Adams mass-produced chewing gum in the United States under the name Chiclets from the resin of the Mexican sapodilla tree and marketed it worldwide.

Cooking with Mastiha

Mastiha spices
Image from Adobe stock

Mastiha is used as a spice and has to be mixed with salt or sugar to temper its strength because it is potent and can overwhelm the dish’s flavor. If you wish to use mastiha simply grind the frozen drops in a mortar and pestle..Measure what you have and following a 1:10 ratio, mix it with salt or sugar. Mastiha is usually added in small amounts, as you would with all-powerful spices. A little goes a long way.

How to enjoy Mastiha

Shot glasses
Image From Adobe Stock

Served cold and straight-up as a digestive at the end of a meal is how it is most often served in Greece. It is how we first experienced it and prefer it that way to this day.

It also can be used in many different types of cocktails. Check out our wide range of cocktail recipes below.

Where to purchase Mastiha

Mastiha Skinos

Masthia spirits have gained much greater popularity in recent years. This is believed to be due to the trend of creating new and unique cocktails. Mastiha is seen more and more in bartending competitions worldwide.

As a result, Mastiha can be easily found in most US liquor stores. However, it is fun to bring back from Greece as it is comparatively inexpensive. We always grab some in the duty-free shops before we board the plane in Greece. There is a sweet grocery store on the main level at the Athens airport that has a great selection of Masthiha liquor and other products. Our favorite place to pick some gifts and snacks for the trip home or a bottle or two to launch our visit.

Places in the US to find Mastiha is Total Wine or if you don’t want to go out and live in a large city you can get some delivered often within an hour or two by Drizly.com (Drizly is an affiliate link and we may get a small commission if you order from them). Even Amazon.com has Mastiha Spirits for sale as well of gum and the spice.

Mastiha Candy
Greek loukoumi with delicious Mastic flavor Adobe Stock Image

Our favorite brand of Mastiha spiritis is Skinos. It will also be the easiest to find in the US.

If you are interested in purchasing other mastiha products, especially the medicinal ones, check out the Mastiha shop. It is fascinating all the products they carry.

May we suggest a few recipes for cocktails?

Salty Skin

Ingredients
2 ounces Skinos Mastiha
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce of dry white wine
2 ounces of soda water
Pinch of salt

Fill a highball glass with all the ingredients except soda water and then add ice cubes and stir well. Add soda water and give another stir. Garnish with 2 olives.

Recipe from Skinos Official Site

Sour Mastic

Skinos Sour

Ingredients

1 2/3 ounce of Mastiha Spirits
1 tsp of simple syrup
2/3 ounce of fresh lemon juice
A dash of aromatic bitters
2/3 ounce of fresh egg white
Lemon peel for garnish

Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into ice-filled an old-fashioned glass. If you use egg white firstly dry shake the egg white to make the foam and then shake along with the other ingredients with ice. Garnish with lemon peel.

Recipe from Skinos Official Site

Twist on the Mule

Mastic Mule

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces of Vodka
1/2 ounces Mastiha Spirits
1-ounce Herbes de Provence Syrup or Simple syrup infused with herbs
Splash of Hard Cider
Squeeze of Lime
Slice of lime

Pour the first four ingredients over ice in a copper mug, stir, and top with hard cider. Garnish with lime.

Recipe from Food and Wine.com

Lovely and classic

Onassis

Ingredients
1/2 ounce Mastiha Spirit
1/2 ounce of Rum
3 ounces Champagne
1/2 Lime
1/2 ounce of simple syrup
5-6 sprigs of fresh mint

 Muddle fresh mint, syrup, and lime in a glass. Pour in a shaker with Mastiha, champagne, rum, and ice. Garnish with lime

Recipe from Food and Wine.com

Traditional Mediterranean

The Med

Ingredients
2 ounces Skinos Mastiha
1 tsp simple syrup
6 fresh basil leaves
2 Lemon Wedges
Soda Water

 Fill a highball glass with Skinos Mastiha Spirit, lemon juice, sugar, basil leaves, and ice cubes, and stir well. Add more ice cubes and top up with soda water and give another stir. Garnish with basil sprig.

Recipe from Skinos Official Site

Planning a trip to Greece? Check out our Greece Travel Guide

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

Check out our most recent blog posts

Want to learn about Wanderers Compass?

Want to learn about Wanderers Compass?

Squaremouth.com

Our favorite travel insurance site!

If you are booking a trip, don’t forget to get travel insurance within 14 days of your first booking. We could not be stronger advocates of being well insured. Not for the little stuff but the big stuff like medical emergencies. We never leave home without it. Over the years, we have used many sites but have now found our go-to place. Squaremouth.com does a fantastic job; it has a user-friendly interface, they use top-rated and reputable insurance carriers, and most policies cover Covid medical issues and cancellations. They also mediate on your behalf if you have problems with your policy.

MedjetAssist

Medical transport back home from anywhere in the world

They are the premier global air medical transport. One caveat to travel insurance is that medical evacuation usually gets you to the closest facility to care for you. Medjet gets you back to the U.S. to the hospital of your choice once you are stable enough to fly. They cover Covid-related transports as well.

Medjet carries its own policies. The policy is only for transport and no other aspects of travel insurance. They have individual trip policies starting at $99 and annual policies for $295. Most of their policies limit the age to 74 and younger. Prices are not based on age below that.

Expedia.com 

Hotels, home rentals, BNBs, flights, and other transportation & tours 

Expedia is a US-based company whose mission is to power global travel for everyone and everywhere. Whether planning a family vacation, booking for business, or organizing the trip of a lifetime, they are a fantastic resource. Wanderers Compass focuses on independent travel, and using sites like Expedia makes that possible. Every aspect of travel you would need, from airfare, accommodations, rental car, cruises, to activities to do at your destination, can be booked on Expedia.  

Booking.com

Hotels, Home rentals, BNBs, Flights, and other Transportation & Tours 

Booking.com connects millions of travelers to memorable experiences, various transportation options, and incredible places to stay – from homes to hotels and much more. It is one of the world’s largest travel marketplaces for established brands and entrepreneurs of all sizes.

We always start with Expedia to check prices, but it sometimes says it is sold out. We then try Booking.com, and we find it lists plenty of rooms. It could be they are a Europe-based company. Try both before booking accommodations.

Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO)

Are you traveling with a family or having an extended stay at your destination?

With over 2 million bookable vacation rentals, VRBO connects homeowners with families and vacationers looking for something more than a hotel for their trip. The VRBO community offers families or groups various rental property types such as condos, cabins, lake rentals, beach houses, etc.

VRBO is under the Expedia group ownership now, which many were worried about, but it hasn’t panned out to be a concern. It is a massive network that also has access to all forms of lodging should issues arise. Joelle has used VRBO for many years with her family, with no problems to date.

Tripadvisor

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers around the world use the Tripadvisor site and App to discover where to stay, what to do, and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 1 billion reviews and opinions from nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants and discover great places to see nearby. We use them for guidance and research on every trip, it is a valuable app for the independent traveler.

Rail Europe

Discover Europe by Train

Rail Europe sells train and bus tickets for travel across Europe. They cover 24 countries, 105 rail operations, and 20,000 stations. They are the official rail and bus operations agents in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Rail Europe continues to add coverage all the time.

It is a fast, easy and economical way to purchase train and bus tickets for Europe. Eurail passes are also available to buy through their site.

Amazon.com

An excellent source for travel essentials and guides

Amazon is one of the most extensive shopping online sources in the world. On behalf of their customers, teams worldwide provide lower prices, better selection, and rapid delivery. They offer a vast inventory, and it is their 1.7 million small and medium businesses worldwide selling on Amazon.com that provide extensive options for customers.

We buy most of our travel books, accessories, and luggage from Amazon. We have ordered up to two days before travel and get what we need.

Travelpro Luggage

Thoughtfully Designed | Meticulously Constructed | Quality Guaranteed.

We have used this luggage for years, left briefly to try others, and returned to Travelpro. Travelpro luggage is carried by crews from over 90 airlines worldwide.

Travelpro takes the time to learn what travelers want and need, then builds it. The key factor for us is that it must be lightweight upfront and very resistant to rough handling. Their luggage is the best, and we could not recommend it enough. It is our go-to luggage.

iVisa

Travel documentation made more accessible

iVisa.com is dedicated to providing customers with a simple, fast, and reliable way to get travel documentation for their journey. Their online application process makes getting visas, health declarations, or passport photos a breeze, all from your home’s comfort. As a leading independent company in the travel documentation industry, they take pride in making global travel more accessible for everyone. In the end, it is a simple and affordable travel resource to get the necessary entry documents complete for your international travel.

This section contains affiliate links. If you use these links (the ads with photos are NOT affiliate links) to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Do you have a question for us or have a comment?

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

Cinque Terre

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

No spam, unsubscribe at any time, no more than one email a month