What is That Taste?

While visiting a family here in Athens I was offered a traditional ‘spoon-sweet’ – a sticky, smooth confection, with a glass of cold water. The taste was very special – the aroma of pine, cedar, incence, elusive … something I had tasted a long time ago.

I enquired from my hosts what that flavour was, and was told it is called mastic. Immediately it all came flooding back to me.


Years ago when I was living in Albert Park, a suburb of Melbourne, I was shopping at the corner store run by a Greek family when I noticed a little packet labelled mastiha, containing tiny crystals appearing like clear frankincence, hanging on a rack near the counter. I asked what it was, and was told it was used in Greek sweets.

Sometime later when I was testing recipes for my second book ‘Cooking with Kurma’, I discovered a Greek rice pudding flavoured with mastic. I tested it, and liked it, but finally our team of tasters and I (reluctantly) agreed that probably it was a bit too exotic, an ‘acquired taste’, so it was dropped from the book.

Mastic is a resin, the hardened sap from a tree grown only in the Greek island of Chios. There’s a fascinating story to it. You can read more here…

And here’s a recipe for that spoon sweet. It’s sweet – not for the feint-hearted! Gum Mastic is available in select Greek and specialty stores.

Mastiha Gliko
A traditional Greek speciality offered to guests on arrival. Other spoon sweets are made of fruit preserves. Serves 4.

1 3/4 cups water
500g approx (one pound exactly) sugar, granulated
2 tsp lemon juice
3 tsp mastic, finely pounded with a little sugar

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, bring to the boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

Add one teaspoon of lemon juice and boil until the syrup is at the firm ball stage, 240°F-250°F. Remove from the heat and cool.

When the syrup is cold beat briskly and add another teaspoon of lemon juice and the mastic.

Continue beating until it is clear shiny white. Add a little water if the mixture is too thick – it should be gooey.

Turn into a bowl and serve on a tray with a teaspoon and a glass of iced water.
Posted by Kurma on 16/1/07; 12:07:21 AM

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