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Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) is an evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 3–4 m tall, mainly cultivated for its aromatic resin on the Greek island of Chios,. It is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberia at the east through southern France and Turkey to Syria and Israel in the west; it is also native on the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from a Phoenician word or from the Greek verb mastichein (“to gnash the teeth”, origin of the English word masticate) or massein (“to chew”).
Within the European Union, Mastic production is granted protected designation of origin (PDO) and a protected geographical indication (PGI) name. The ‘Mastichohoria’ (mastic-producing villages) are located in the southern part of Chios.
A hard, brittle, transparent resin, also known as mastic (or mastix), is obtained from the tree. The resin is collected by bleeding from small cuts made in the bark. When chewed, the resin becomes bright white and opaque.
Mastic resin is a relatively expensive kind of spice, used in liquors (mastica alcoholic drink) and chewing gum pastilles. It is also a key ingredient in dondurma, a Turkish ice cream, and Turkish puddings granting that confection its unusual texture and bright whiteness. It was the Sultan’s privilege to chew mastic, and it was considered to have healing properties. Mastic is also used for pastry making, drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, cosmetics such as toothpaste, and lotions for the hair and skin and perfumes.
It is used in cooking of many dishes in Egypt, ranging from soup to meats to dessert. It is also chewed as a gum to sooth the stomach.
The resin is harvested from incisions in the main branches of the tree dropping onto specially prepared ground under the branches. The harvesting is done during the summer months between June and September. After the mastic is collected it is washed manually and spread in the sun to dry.
The aromatic flavoured resin, used commercially, come from mastic trees grow in the south of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, where it is also known by the name “Chios Tears”.