During the Ottoman occupation plantation and production of mastiha trees was developed. Prior to the Chios massacre in 1822, production was stable but following the destruction it halted. After 1832 permission was granted for the expatriated Chians to return home. Upon repatriation villagers started plantation again and by 1840 production levels escalated to those prior the destruction. The Balkan and the First World Wars shrank production which forced mastic producers to switch to alternative agricultural products, chiefly tobacco. Since 1929, production has remained stable. The quantitative steadiness is largely due to the fact that the mastic tree does not fluctuate widely in its yield.
There are several categories and classifications of gum mastic
- Pitta – the foam of gum mastic which occurs when many drops merge in one in a rather oval shape
- Large tears – gum mastic hung on the cutting like a tear
- Small tears
The remains of the cleaning process are powder-like tiny bits which are often used for distillation to aromatize alcoholic drinks.
The Mastiha Tree
Τhe mastiha tree or lentisk – scientific name: Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia, is an evergreen shrub, 2-3 metres high that develops very slowly and becomes fully grown after 40-50 years, reaching up to the height of 5 metres at its mature age. Its life span is more than 100 years but it cannot produce mastiha earlier than the fifth or sixth year of its life. It reaches its maximum yield after the fifteenth year
The mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), also called “skinos”, grows in the Mediterranean countries however, the tree Pistacia Lentiscus Var. Chia is a special variety that grows only in the Southern part of Chios and offers the precious mastiha tears.
Gum mastic is produced from June to September. Before making cuttings and collecting the mastic, the ground underneath must be cleaned and levelled in a circular area so that the mastiha drops that fall can be easily gathered. Early July or at the end of June, producers start to clean the area with trowels, shovels and xistri, the specially designed tool for cleaning. The sweeping of the area follows usually with a common broom or by using small branches. The levelling is done with white clay spread on the ground and pressed until it becomes flat.
The first incisions will then start on the trunk of the tree and the number of cuttings is proportional to the size of the tree. Transverse cutting is commonly preferred due to faster healing. When the gum mastic is coagulated the first collection takes place with a special tool called timitiri. Overall each mastic tree is cut 10 to 12 times over a 5 to 6 week period. The second and final collection follows the same procedure only 15 to 20 days after the time of coagulation. The Chios Mastiha Growers Association assembles the total production over a six-month period.
Since 1997, Chios mastiha has been identified as Protected Designation of Origin product (PDO ), and has been registered in the relevant community list of the PDO products.