Mastiha is a resin retrieved from the mastic evergreen, a shrub of the species Pistacia lentiscus. Native to the Greek island of Chios, mastiha has a tear-drop shape when solidified, earning the name "drops of Chios." This resin is extensively used in Eastern Mediterranean and Arab cuisine in desserts, pastries, pudding, candy, fruit preserves, and to flavor beverages like tea or coffee. It can even be used as a natural chewing gum (mastic gum). Used ground and mixed with sugar or salt, mastiha is great for adding flavor to savory or sugary preparations.
Origin: Chios, Greece
Name: "mastiha" is the root word of "masticate," "to chew"
Flavor: fresh pine, wood
Uses: baking, cooking, flavoring
Find: Middle Eastern supermarkets, online
What Is Mastiha?
Mastiha starts as a semi-transparent sap that solidifies in yellowish tear-drop blobs. It's native to Chios in Greece and is also found in the Canary Islands and Morocco, although much of its production comes from Greece. Sold whole or ground, mastiha is used as a flavoring in cooking and as a fragrant, refreshing additive to cosmetics and personal hygiene products. Also found in paint and varnishes, mastic is added to such products for its oily properties and color.
Mastiha appears in Greek and Mediterranean cuisines as a spice in sweet and salty dishes. Added as a flavoring for liqueurs, it is also extensively used in soap, cosmetics, toothpaste, varnish, paint, and cream-making.
How to Cook With Mastiha
Mastiha is used as a spice and has to be mixed with salt or sugar to temper its strength because it is very powerful and can overwhelm the flavor of the preparations to which it's added. Simply grind the frozen drops in a mortar and pestle and measure the amount of mastiha powder that you have. Following a 1:10 ratio, mix it with salt or sugar. Mastiha is usually added in small amounts, as you would with other powerful spices. A little goes a long way.
What Does It Taste Like?
Musky and aromatic, mastiha has a distinct and refreshing earthy flavor of fresh trees, pine, and wood.
Before adding mastiha to your recipes, check whether you can add it whole, or more commonly, it needs to be ground. To make the powder, do not use a food processor or spice grinder. Mastiha is a resin, thus oily and gummy, and it won't powder as you'd expect but will ruin the blades and insides of any machine. Start with just the drops in a mortar and pestle and add sugar or salt in the correct amounts while grinding until you have a perfumed salty or sugary powder. When the recipe calls for one "drop" of mastic powder, it means one granule, ground.
Mastiha is added to ice cream, pastries, creamy fillings, mousses, dips, sauces, marinades, as well as fish, veal, goat, and poultry preparations. Infuse your favorite tea, olive oil, herbal tea, or coffee with small amounts of mastiha.
Where to Buy Mastiha
Find mastiha in upscale supermarkets or online retailers. It is usually refrigerated, so check there first. Greek supermarkets, spice shops, or Mediterranean stores will most definitely have the drops. The price ranges depending on the purity and origin, but like other uncommon spices, it can be pricey.
Store mastiha in the refrigerator after you've processed with salt or sugar. If you have the whole drops, place in the freezer until it's time to use them. Mastiha keeps well for many years if stored properly; most packages have an expiration date three years into the future.
Nutrition and Benefits
Beyond providing preparations with a distinctive flavor, mastiha has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Recent evidence of its positive effect on ulcers and gastrointestinal discomforts has resulted in a boom in purchases by large pharmaceutical companies. Nowadays, Western medicine uses its components as aids in digestive tract ailments, from oral and mouth diseases (sores, cavities) to digestive discomforts like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Mastiha has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Papada E, Gioxari A, Amerikanou C, et al. Regulation of faecal biomarkers in inflammatory bowel disease patients treated with oral mastiha (Pistacia lentiscus) supplement: A double-blind and placebo-controlled randomised trial. Phytother Res. 2019;33(2):360-369. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.6229
Papada E, Gioxari A, Brieudes V, et al. Bioavailability of Terpenes and Postprandial Effect on Human Antioxidant Potential. An Open-Label Study in Healthy Subjects. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018;62(3) DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201700751