|Mastic foliage and flowers|
Pistacia lentiscus (Greek: μαστίχα) (Mastic) is an evergreen shrub or small tree of the Pistacio family growing up to 4 m (13 ft) tall which is cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios. It is native throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Iberia in the west through southern France and Turkey to Iraq and Iran in the east. It is also native to the Canary Islands. The word mastic derives either from the Greek verb mastichein ("to gnash the teeth", origin of the English word masticate) or massein ("to chew").
Within the European Union, "Mastic spice" production in Chios is granted protected designation of origin (PDO) and a protected geographical indication (PGI) name. These are granted because, although the tree is native to the Mediterranean region, only the mastic trees of southern Chios "weep" the masticha resin when their bark is scored. The island's mastic production is controlled by a co-operative of medieval villages, collectively known as the 'Mastichochoria' (Μαστιχοχώρια), which are also located in the southern part of Chios.
The aromatic, ivory coloured resin, also known as mastic, is harvested as a spice from the cultivated mastic trees grown in the south of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, where it is also known by the name "Chios Tears". Originally liquid, it is sun dried into drops of hard, brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum.
The resin is collected by bleeding the trees from small cuts made in the bark of the main branches, and allowing the sap to drip onto the specially prepared ground below. 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.
Mastic resin is a relatively expensive kind of spice, that has been used, principally, as a chewing gum, for at least 2,400 years. The flavour can be described as a strong slightly smoky, resiny aroma and can be an acquired taste.
Some scholars identify the bakha בכא mentioned in the Bible—as in the Valley of Baca (Hebrew: עמק הבכא) of Psalm 84 - with the mastic plant. The word bakha appears to be derived from the Hebrew word for crying or weeping, and is thought to refer to the "tears" of resin secreted by the mastic plant, along with a sad weeping noise which occurs when the plant is walked on and branches are broken. The Valley of Baca is thought to be a valley near Jerusalem that was covered with low mastic shrubbery, much like some hillsides in northern Israel today. In an additional biblical reference, King David receives divine counsel to place himself opposite the Philistines coming up the Valley of Rephaim, southwest of Jerusalem, such that the "sound of walking on the tops of the bakha shrubs" (קול צעדה בראשי הבכאים) signals the moment to attack (II Samuel V: 22–24).
Mastic is known to have been popular in Roman times when children chewed it, and in Medieval times it was highly prized for the Sultan's harem both as a breath freshener and for cosmetics. It was the Sultan's privilege to chew mastic, and it was considered to have healing properties. The spice's use was widened when Chios became part of the Ottoman Empire, and it remains popular in North Africa and the Near East.
The "Mastichohoria" (mastic-producing villages) are located in the southern part of Chios.
Mastic gum is principally used either as a flavouring or for its gum properties, as in mastic chewing gum.
As a spice, it continues to be used in Greece to flavour spirits and liquors (such as Chios's native drinks of Mastichato and mastica), chewing gum and a number of cakes, pastries, spoon sweets and desserts. Sometimes it is even used in making cheese. Mastic resin is a key ingredient in Booza (arabic mastic ice cream), Dondurma (Turkish ice cream), and Turkish puddings granting those confections its unusual texture and bright whiteness. In Lebanon and Egypt, the spice is used to flavour many sauces, ranging from soups to meats to desserts, while in Morocco smoke from the resin is used to flavour water. In Turkey, Mastic is used as a flavor of Turkish delight. Recently, a Mastic flavoured fizzy drink has also been launched, called "Mast".
Mastic resin is a key ingredient in Greek festival breads, for example the sweet bread tsoureki and the traditional New Year's Vasilopita. Furthermore, masticha also is essential to myron, the holy oil used for chrismation by the Orthodox Churches.
As well as its culinary uses, Mastic continues to be used for its gum and medicinal properties. The resin is used as a primary ingredient in the production of cosmetics such as toothpaste, lotions for the hair and skin, and perfumes.
In Hebrew, the word for gum is "mastic".
Mastic resin is also chewed as a gum to soothe the stomach. People in the Mediterranean region have used mastic as a medicine for gastrointestinal ailments for several thousand years. The first century Greek physician and botanist, Dioscorides, wrote about the medicinal properties of mastic in his classic treatise De Materia Medica ("About Medical Substances"). Some centuries later Markellos Empeirikos and Pavlos Eginitis also noticed the effect of mastic on the digestive system.
Regular consumption of mastic has been proven to absorb cholesterol, thus easing high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Mastic oil also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and as such is widely used in the preparation of ointments for skin disorders and afflictions. It is also used in the manufacture of plasters.
In ancient Jewish halachic sources, it is indicated that chewing mastic was a treatment for bad breath. "Mastic is not chewed on shabbat. When (is it not forbidden to chew mastic on shabbat)? When the intention is medicinal. If it is against a bad odor, it is permissible." (תוספתא שבת פי"ב (יג) ח, כי"ע). Mastic resin has been proven to reduce bacterial plaque, which explains why many toothpastes and mouthwashes have mastic as one of their main ingredients.
In recent years, university researchers have provided the scientific evidence for the medicinal properties of mastic. A 1985 study by the University of Thessaloniki and by the Meikai University discovered that mastic can reduce bacterial plaque in the mouth by 41.5 percent. A 1998 study by the University of Athens found that mastic oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Another 1998 University of Nottingham study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claims that mastic can heal peptic ulcers by killing Helicobacter pylori, which causes peptic ulcers, gastritis, and duodenitis. Some in vivo studies have shown that mastic gum has no effect on Helicobacter pylori when taken for short periods of time. However a recent and more extensive study showed that mastic gum reduced Helicobacter pylori populations after an insoluble and sticky polymer (poly-β-myrcene) constituent of mastic gum was removed and taken for a longer period of time. Further analysis showed the acid fraction was the most active antibacterial extract, and the most active pure compound was isomasticadienolic acid..
Apart from its medicinal properties, cosmetics and culinary uses, Mastic gum is also used in the production of high grade varnish.
The Mastic tree has been introduced into Mexico as an ornamental plant, where it is very prized and fully naturalized. The trees are grown mainly in suburban areas in semi-arid zones and remain undamaged although the regime of summer rainfall is contrary to its original Mediterranean climate.
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MASTIC, or Mastich (Gr. µaaTLXf, probably connected with µavavOai, to chew, since mastic is used in the East as a chewing gum), a resinous exudation obtained from the lentisk, Pistacia lentiscus, an evergreen shrub of the natural order Anacardiaceae. The lentisk or mastic plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean coast region from Syria to Spain, but grows also in Portugal, Morocco and the Canaries. Although experiments have proved that excellent mastic might be obtained in other islands in the 1 Sir John Romilly, M.P. for Devonport, 1847 to 1852, was the last master of the rolls to sit in Parliament. He was appointed master of the rolls in 1851.
archipelago, the production of the substance has been, since the time of Dioscorides, almost exclusively confined to the island of Chios. The mastic districts of that island are for the most part flat and stony, with little hills and few streams. The shrubs are about 6 ft. high. The resin is contained in the bark and not in the wood, and in order to obtain it numerous vertical incisions are made, during June, July and August, in the stem and chief branches. The resin speedily exudes and hardens into roundish or oval tears, which are collected, after about fifteen days, by women and children in little baskets lined with white paper or cotton wool. The ground around the trees is kept hard and clean, and flat pieces of stone are often laid beneath them to prevent any droppings of resin from becoming contaminated with dirt. The collection is repeated three or four times between June and September, a fine tree being found to yield about 8 or io lb of mastic during the season. Besides that obtained from the incisions, mastic of very fine quality spontaneously exudes from the small branches. The harvest is affected by showers of rain during the period of collection, and the trees are much injured by frost, which is, however, of rare occurrence in the districts where they grow. Mastic occurs in commerce in the form of roundish tears about the size of peas. They are transparent, with a glassy fracture, of a pale yellow or faint greenish tinge, which darkens slowly by age. During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries mastic enjoyed a high reputation as a medicine, and formed an ingredient in a large number of medical compounds; but its use in medicine is now obsolete, and it is chiefly employed for making varnish.
Pistacia Khinjuk and P. cabulica, trees growing throughout Sindh, Baluchistan and Cabul, yield a kind of mastic which is met with in the Indian bazaars under the name of Mustagirumi, i.e. Roman mastic. This when occurring in the European market is known as East Indian or Bombay mastic. In Algeria P. Atlantica yields a solid resin, which is collected and used by the Arabs as a masticatory. Cape mastic is the produce of Euryops multifidus, the resin bush, or harpuis bosch of the Boers - a plant of the composite order growing abundantly in the Clanwilliam district. Dammar resin is sometimes sold under the name of mastic. The West Indian mastic tree is the Bursera gummifera and the Peruvian mastic is Schinus molle; but neither of these furnishes commercial resins. The name mastic tree is also applied to a timber tree, Sider oxylon mastichodendron, nat. ord. Sapotaceae, which grows in the West Indies and on the coast of Florida.