Tears of Chios
Mastiha is a clear resin that seeps from the bark of the mastic tree. The tree itself is well dispersed throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Curiously enough the gummy sap runs only from the trees on the Greek island of Chios. Reputed for its medicinal and therapeutic properties, the resin has been much prized throughout Antiquity and is still acclaimed as a nearly miraculous product with multiple uses. The gum has a slightly bitter yet refreshing taste with overtones of pine or cedar.
The gummy substance is extracted from the lentisk tree in a peculiar fashion. The two hundred or so individuals compromising twenty-four families on the island have been producing this exceptional elixir for centuries. The harvest of the resin takes place between July and October each year and is known as kentos. The first step in the process is to clear the foot of the tree and sprinkle calcium carbonate around the base. Next, every four to five days, the harvesters produce less than a dozen tiny incisions in the bark of the tree that let the drops of sap exude; the gum hardens and eventually fall to the ground. The tears are collected and painstakingly cleaned to form drop like shapes of a milky white color. The mastic is then sold as solid drops and some oil is also produced.
The use of mastic dates from as far back as Hippocrates who used the Tears of Chios as a remedy for digestive problems. The Romans used the mastic to flavor their spiced wine called conditum paradoxum. This spiced wine can still be found today used in Middle Eastern cuisine. During the Ottoman rule, Chios was a guarded fortress island. Palisade walls were erected round the growing regions of the mastiha tree to prevent natural or man-made catastrophe from harming the precious crop. In addition, the walls contained no entrances; the inhabitants had to scale the wall with ladders to enter and exit any of these protected cities. The penalty, as decreed by the Ottoman ruler for theft of the precious commodity, was death. The tears were literally worth their weight in gold and are still referred to as "white gold".
Through the ages there have been many uses for the Tears of Chios. The mastic is used in all sorts of cooking and baked goods. East Mediterranean delights such as Turkish Delight, ice cream (Booza), pastries and brioches all use the afore mentioned enhancer; it is also used as a stabilizer in meringues and nougats. Mastic is traditionally used in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, body oils, and body lotions. The resin may also serve as a substitute for Frankincense in certain religious rites.
The use that most concerns us is in snuff. The mastic flavor can be found in the product of an innovative and clever manufacturer. S'Nuff said and see you in the funny papers.