Chios mastic gum – or mastiha, as it is called in Greece – is a natural resin that is extracted from the trunk of a tree that grows in the Greek island of Chios, the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia). It has and off-white/off-yellow color and is semi-transparent or completely transparent and it is part of the Diet of the Greek people, and in essence part of the Mediterranean Diet.
The tree is fully grown when it is 40-50 years old and can live for 100 years. A resinous exudate is produced after longitudinal incisions made at close intervals from the base of the trunk up to the thicker branches of the tree. Once the resin is coagulated, chios mastic gum is produced. After the fifteenth year, the tree produces 60-250gr. – and very seldomly up to 400gr. – per year. The exclusive production of mastic gum in Chios island is due to the temperate climate of the island, as well as the underwater volcanos and the limestone terrain. There have been efforts to cultivate this variety of mastic tree in other countries, but without success and it therefore remains a Chios product of origin!
The properties of mastic gum have been discovered since the ancient years and it seems that it has been part of the ‘’Greek flavoured’’ Mediterranean Diet. The first references come from Herodotus, the 5th century BC. Many ancient writers mention the therapeutic properties of mastic gum, such as Dioscourides and Galenus. Its pharmaceutical properties were also known to Heppocates. In ancient Rome, people used toothpicks made of mastic trees, in order to whiten their teeth. In ancient Greece, people chew the dried resin that came from the bark of the mastic tree. Moreover, medical recipes have been found, in which it is shown how they used mastic gum to treat different diseases.
The produciton of mastic gum takes place from June to September. The taste of mastic gum is at first bitter, the bitternes disappears though as you keep chewing and its particular aroma gives a special taste. Its hardness depends on a lot of factors, such as temperature, its exposure time and the size of the mastic “tear”.
HEALTH PROPERTIES of the Mastic gum
Chios mastic gum has a very strong anti-inflammatory effect, due to the eleanolic and oleanolic acid it contains, which acts healing in inflammations, such as periodontitis, esophagitis, gastritis, duodenal ulcer, colitis and hemorrhoids It also helps combat indigestion and bloating. Chewing mastic gum stimulates saliva and gastric fluid production, which facilitates digestion.
Also, mastic gum is used to soften tumors in the rectum, breasts, liver, parotids, spleen, stomach, intestine and esophagus. It has analgesic, aphrodisiac, diuretic and haemostatic action – it is also used to treath diarrhea in children. It is the traditional remedy for bad breath, gingivitis, abscesses, acne, cancer, ulver and mastitis.
Recent studies show that even a small amount of chios mastic gum (1mg/day for 2 weeks) can heal peptic ulcer caused by they bacterium Helicobacter Pylori, because of its antimicrobial action. Equally important is its effect on the liver, where it appears to activate the absorption of cholesterol, thereby reducing its concentration in the blood. That is how cardiovascular risk is reduced. Mastic gum also has diuretic properties. In vitro studies have proven that chios mastic gum inhibits the oxidative action of LDL cholesterol, and has the highest antioxidant effect compared to other resins and gums, protecting thus the cardiovascular system. Its antioxidant action leads to a reduction in the levels of cholesterol deposited on the tissues, resulting in a reduced rate of atherogenesis and reduced risk of heart disease and various types of cancer.
Chios mastic gum contains two very importan acids, ursolic and oleanolic, which are responsible for its antimicrobial, antivirus, anticancer, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer action.
Another important action of mastic gum is its use in the hygiene of the oral cavity. It is one of the raw materials used to manufacture toothpaste, washing solutions and mouth fresheners, because it offers clean breath, while it seems to act against plaque formation and to protect the oral cavity.
Mastic gum is rich is certain polyphenols, which combined with all its other ingredients, has beneficial health properties. The polyphenols found it chios mastic gum reduce blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels, protect epithelial cells of the respiratory system, increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol levels, while they have anticancer action and anti-allergenic properties.
USES OF MASTIC GUM
In the Koran, Muhammad recommends mastic gum to believers – and perhaps this is the reason for the high consumption of it in the Islamic world. Muslims used to add a small amount of mastic gum powder in bread dough to give it a pleasant aroma. The Egyptians smoked from clay pots, which contained water with mastic gum.
In medicine, chios mastic gum is used in ointments against burns, frostbite, skin diseases and in the production of skin patches. In recent years scientists study its use against stomach ulcer caused by Helicobacter pylori, while they also study its use in diabetes and in the treatment of increased blood cholesterol and triglycerides. It is also believed to be a preventive agent in Chron’s disease.
In surgery, mastic gum and rosin, which is a mastic derivative, are used for the production of sutures, which are absorbed by the body.
In dentistry, it is used for dental hygiene and as an oral antiseptic. Chewing chios mastic gum also helps the maintenance of gums in good health. Moreover, it moistens the oral cavity by stimulating saliva secretion and gives a pleasant odor in the mouth, helping thus against bad breath. The regular use of mastic gum seems to limt plaque formation. Also, it is used as a component of dental fillings and denture molds.
Mastic gum is also used in perfumery, in cosmetic facial creams – due to its ability to cleanse the face – in the textile industry as a color stabilizer and in pastry to prepare sweets and pastries. It is also used as a seasoning in Mediterranean cuisine, as well as in beverages and alcoholic drinks.
In conclusion, Chios mastic gum is a unique product of the Mediterranean, which, apart from its unique flavor, helps maintain our good health. The exclusive production of mastic gum in the island of Chios is one of the products that the Greek land has to offer to all mankind.