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Sandra Levine

Mastic

25 posts in this topic

I've often seen jars of this thick white substance shelved with jams in Greek grocery stores.  From a web serach, I've learned that it is a gum resin from the mastic tree that grows in a partcular part of Greece.  Is anyone familiar with this?  Can you describe the flavor?  How is it used?

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Isn't it an old-fashioned school glue? Sounds like something you'd use to stick your dentures in.  :smile:

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I first thought mastic was gum arabic.  It isn't.  It's from the acacia tree. As luck would have it, I'm researching ingredients and products for a Greek/Turkish/Lebanese restaurant consulting project I have coming up and was in a wonderful Washington DC Lebanese and Middle Eastern market today called Lebanese Taverna.

Sure enough I saw a little jar of this hard crystalline stuff that looked a little like rock sugar candy, so I asked Gladys Abi-Najm, one of the impossibly beautiful family of brothers and sisters now running the market (and the several restaurants around town also called Lebanese Taverna.)  Gladys said as kids they mixed a little chunk of the mastic with regular wax and made their own version of chewing gum that lasted all day.

I poked around a bit in their cookbook collection and it seems mastic was also used to flavor Middle Eastern puddings and stews, historically.

Here's the link to their site:

http://www.lebanesetaverna.com/index2.html


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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It is a sticky, glue-y substance that I think does have some dental uses, in a different form. Tree resins are also used in varnishes and I'm sure in pastes and glues.

I don't have the crystalline stuff, rather a jar of jam-like substance flavored with it.  So far, all I've done is taste it from a spoon.  It's very thick and sticky, pearly, with an impression of translucence.  It's extremely sweet stuff, with a faintly licorice taste.  Not much real flavor.

The label lists glucose as the second ingredient after sugar, then "scent" of mastic -- I guess that means the equivalent of vanilla extract.  The glucose intrigues me.  When I get around to it, I think I will use a little of this stuff when I make ice cream or sorbet.  It may help the texture.

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Sandra--try to get the pure stuff if only for a sensory comparison.  My little jar is 17g and under the Krinos label.  The aroma is very fresh and stimulating, like a cross between pine needles and lemon verbena, that I imagine could come off as medicinal if used with a heavy hand, as rosewater does in most commercial Indian sweets in this country.


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Mastic is used in a celebratory cake baked in the Lebannon for new mothers. Can it possibly have medicinal/nutritious qualities? Its certainly the time when mom needs 'em most!

PS I have never heard of any other cuisine which makes a post natal cake, have you?

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No--fascinating angle to consider, though.  Do you have a recipe for the celebratory cake using mastic?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Probably obvious, but the word "mastic" comes from the latin, "to chew." Must have a rubbery component that helps make it like gum.

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Steve - no, I don't have the recipe for the cake. A waiter at one of my favourite Lebanese restaurants, Noura in Hobart Place, London SW1 told me about it. However, I will ask the chef if he has one next time I'm there.

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Thanks Sandra, very interesting--combining semolina and flour.  Something I noticed, though: the mastic is not mentioned in the text of the recipe.


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Chios, a Greek island five miles from the Turkish coast west of Izmir, is famous for its huge exports of gum mastic.  This gum or resin with an exquisite aroma is exuded from the bark of the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), which is a Mediterranean evergreen. Harvest starts in July/August when the gum mastic producers make incisions in the trees to yield the transparent resin, which is collected and rinsed in barrels.  It is then spread out and set to dry while a second cleaning takes place by hand.

There are two kinds of mastic, immaculate, first-class crystals which are called ‘dahtilidopetres’ (flintstones) and soft ones with spots which are called ‘kantiles’ (blisters).

Mastic is used in cakes, ice-creams and other dishes, especially in Arab cuisine, as well as in cosmetics - hair and skin lotions, toothpaste and perfume.  Mastic may also have medicinal properties and was used in the past to treat illnesses such as stomach ulcers, abdominal pains and heartburn.

It appears to have even wider applications since, according to the Mastic home page (www.mastic.com), "Contractors and homeowners all over America know Mastic as the premium vinyl siding ..." - versatile stuff indeed ;-)

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I first thought mastic was gum arabic.  It isn't.  It's from the acacia tree.

From what I can tell from a quick internet search and from the dictionary,  gum arabic is from the acacia tree and mastic is from the mastic tree, specifically the mastic tree from a particular Greek island.  The two trees are different species; both, however, yield resins useful in cookery.  

Click here for mastic

Click here for gum arabic

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Thank you for that gastrotex--my bottle said "Chios Mastiha" on the label and I wondered what that meant.


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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And then there is NY subway construction with that stuff:

"In places, the job still looks more like an archaeology dig than a subway rebirth. The ragged ends of the old tunnel walls can be seen, layers of rust-colored brick interspersed with concrete, the layers glued together with thick black mastic to keep water out."

part of quote from NY Times "Tunnel Vision" 21 may.


Peter

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Sandra--one print source of mine says that gum arabic is "a natural additive obtained from the bark of certain varieties of acacia tree."  Another print source, "A New Book of Middle Eastern Food," says that mastic is "the hard resin of the acacia tree."  Gastrotex--thank you for your very detailed post--would you mind passing along the source or reference?

Gastrotex--have you ever held flintstone grade crystals of mastic in your hands? are they hard and not squeezable in the slightest?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I seem to recall an article in Saveur from several months ago about Turkish ice cream and that it had a different texture and melting point because of the use of mastic. You could probably find it at your local library.

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Library? Do people actually go to libraries anymore?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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If you want a magazine that isn't on the store shelves anymore they do!  :wink:

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Gastrotex--have you ever held flintstone grade crystals of mastic in your hands? are they hard and not squeezable in the slightest?

Can't help there, I'm afraid.

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Just a tidbit: in modern Hebrew, the word "mastik" means chewing gum.

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