Gum Mastic - Mastic Tree
Gum mastic is the product of the Gum Mastic Tree. How does it work? Cuttings are made on the trunk of the tree and from these cuttings out comes a resinous substance in liquid form. When this substance has coagulated we have Masticha. The color of Masticha is initially pale green because it contains traces of chlorophyll, but as time passes it loses its color and within twelve to eighteen months, it becomes yellowish, probably due to oxidation. It's transparent like dim crystal.
Experiments on the storage of Chios gum mastic have proven that the optimum temperature of the elaboration and conservation of the product's quality is at -20o C. The airing and the temperature are actually the most important factors affecting the flow of gum mastic in quality and in time of drying. The degree of hardness also depends on the temperature of the environment, the time of exposition and the size of the tear. When the flow is continuous, the tear is large and remains rather soft. No continuous flow, on the other and, gives a small, harder tear.
At the beginning of chewing the taste is rather bitter, but after a short time this bitterness goes away and the only thing that remains is its special aroma.
What's the origin of the word "Masticha"? It comes from "Mastic" because the gum mastic tree was whipped ("mastigono") instead of making cuttings on the trunk in the past. Another explanation comes from the verb "masticate" which actually means "I chew".
Gum mastic is produced from June until September and, if the weather conditions are abnormally warm, in October. But the collection is 'governed by Law 4381' from July 15th to October 15th, when the coagulation becomes uniform. What does this Law say? "It is prohibited to make cuttings on gum mastic trees and gum mastic collection before July 15th and after October 15th, every year. The last date can be extended for a fortnight by the prefect's permission."
There are 21 mastic villages in the south of Chios, the only area to grow and produce gum mastic. Many people believe a miracle explains the origins of the Schinos, a miracle concerning the body of saint Isidoros that was dragged under the Schinos and for his blood God blessed Schinos to produce gum mastic. Another theory is that Schinos started to cry with real tears when it saw Saint Isidoros' body. But the truth is what occurs is due to undersea volcanoes.
The intensity and extension of cultivation of the gum mastic tree for commercial use seems to start from the period of saint Isidoros' martyrdom. This conclusion is reached because, as I said, according to tradition a miracle concerning this saint resulted in gum mastic. It is therefore possible that the cultivation of the gum mastic tree was generalized from saint Isidoros' period and for this reason the tradition correlated with his martyrdom.
Gum mastic belongs to the so-called 'noble' products, which means its price, in comparison to other products, is high. Like every 'noble' product, gum mastic has had many fluctuations in price and many crises.