Greece impresses with the number of products it produces. Many of them have been distinguished by the designation Π.Ο.Π., which means products of Protected Designation of Origin.
This is a list that is constantly enriched, but at the same time maintains its high standards. Some of the products have been characterized as national products since they are produced only in Greece.
Feta is a brined curd white cheese, the making of which was known to the Greeks since ancient times. Homer mentions feta in the Odyssey, naming Polyphemus, one of the Cyclopes, as a feta producer.
People of the Byzantine Empire used the word prosfatos. The name feta is of Italian origin (fetta) and comes from a 17th century reference to this type of cheese that was cut into slices and put into the barrels. The word fetta derives from another Latin word, offeta, which means “a small bite”.
The first official records of the name feta in Greece are found at the end of the 19th century. Until then it was commonly known as white Greek cheese.
Feta is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Τhe latter is a mixture with up to 30% goat’s milk. It has salty taste and is stored in brine or sour milk for two to three months. When removed from the brine, the cheese gains a compact touch and is commonly produced in blocks. There are various types of feta, traditionally categorised into firm and soft varieties. Taste also varies. Its fat ranges between 30-60%.
Feta has been as a protected designation of origin product in the European Union (PDO) and must be made in particular areas in Greece, should come from specific breeds of sheep and goats and the production must follow the traditional preparation process. The case was closed in 2005, following the rejection of the last action lodged by Denmark against the exclusivity of the name.
Legislation dictates that areas allowed to produce feta with the approved indication are all of mainland Greece and the island of Lesvos. In all other places a cheese similar to feta should carry the name white cheese, while in Kefalonia the used term is barrel cheese.
Feta is one of the basic ingredients of the Greek salad and a popular side dish. It is also used in pies like spinach pie and cheese pie. An old time classic Greek snack consists of bread, oil and feta.
In terms of nutrients, feta has significant amounts of vitamins A and K, folic acid, pantothenic acid, iron and magnesium.
Additionally, feta is lower in fat and calories, unlike other aged cheeses and contains more B vitamins than any other fresh cheese. Feta is also a high calcium, phosphorus-rich and a high protein food, elements that contribute to better bone health.
It has also been proved that feta boosts the immune system and supports gut health.
People with allergies or people with lactose intolerant, as well as pregnant women, should avoid feta because it is made with unpasteurized milk.
Mastic (schinos) or Pistacia lentiscus is a local product of Chios. Its name derives from the ancient Greek verb mastichao (Greek: μαστιχάω), literally meaning “I grind with my teeth”. It has a wide range of uses and is recognised as a natural medicine by the European Union. Mastic is available in hard form, fine form, in powder form and as mastic oil. It has been designated as a Protected Designation of Origin product since 1997.
Mastic, also known as The Tears of Chios, has been cultivated for the past 2,500 years in Greece. The Tears were first mentioned by Hippocrates in ancient Greece.
The plant thrives in other Mediterranean countries as well, however, in the south part of the island of Chios and exclusively in 24 Mastic villages, a special variety of Mastic named Chia is cultivated, from which the natural resin is obtained. It is worth mentioning that several unsuccessful attempts to produce mastic have been made in other parts of the world.
The mastic tree is an evergreen shrub that can get up to 2-3 meters high and grows fully after 40-50 years, reaching 5 meters. The special characteristics of the region’s soil and microclimate (limited rainfall, sunshine, calcareous soil) along with the traditional cultivation, explain the uniqueness of this resin that is excreted in the form of tears by the plants’ trunk and large branches, with superficial incisions made in the bark of each tree by the farmers to release the resin.
Local farmers cultivate their fields, pruning the skins starting from December until the spring equinox. At the end of May they clear the base of the trunk (tables) from the grass and leaves. Soil preparation for production begins in June. By July the tables are sprinkled with inert calcium carbonate and in mid-June incisions are made to release the resin. Next step is the collection of thick mastic made in August, while fine mastic crop follows in September. In early November the product is sieved, washed and cleaned piece by piece, and then goes on sale.
Chios mastic is plant with antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities, while it also reduces the amount of lipids and glucose in the blood cells. It also helps in stomach disorders (e.g. Crohn’s disease, gastritis, gastric ulcer and indigestion) and is useful for the gastrointestinal tract, while it is also used for skin problems and has a healing effect. Mastic also inhibits cell proliferation and prevents the evolution of the cell cycle, i.e. has anti-cancer activity.
Mastic is a high-calorie food, but it does not contain any fat or salt, and is low in sugar. On the contrary, it is a high-fiber and high-carb food. It also improves high blood pressure, diabetes, as it can lower blood sugar level. In addition, it increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol and total cholesterol while lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. It also helps fight Helicobacter pylori.
Due to all the aforementioned beneficial properties, Mastic should be consumed in concentrations greater than 20 μg/ml.
Mastic is used in the perfume and cosmetics industry -for making shampoos, shower gels, soaps, body and face creams-, in the distillery, in cooking and in confectionery where mastic powder is used as a taste improver of products such as Turkish delights, chewing gums, candies, confectionery, pastries, buns, cookies, ice cream and bread. It can even be enjoyed along with alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.
As a beverage it aids digestion. Its most common form is liqueurs, while it can also be found in rakomelo and ouzo. Mastic oil can may be consumed as well. However, the most popular form of mastic, is chewing gum! By chewing it the hygiene of the mouth improves significantly. Mastic be enjoyed as well as an ice cream flavor.
Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea Europaea). Virgin olive oil, produced by machine processing in olive mills, is a key element and a health product of the Mediterranean diet.
Greece is amongst the top five countries worldwide producing olive, while per capita national consumption is the highest in the world.
Oilseeds presses and storage jars are found in Greece since the Mycenaean era. People in Ancient Greece used oil in their diet, as a fuel for lighting, as a perfume, for body care and in tanning.
Nowadays, two different categories of olive oil are available – edible (virgin or simple) and industrial.
The process of olive oil production begins with the collection of olives, done either by hitting the olive trees with sticks or by using machines. The olives are then weighed in the olive mill, separated and washed. Then, they put them into steel drum mills to start the grinding process, where the pulp will be malaxed.
Liquid, which is a mixture of olive oil with aqueous components of the fruit, will be extracted after the malaxation. The solid by-product that remains is called pyrinas and contains a significant amount of olive oil. The crude kernel oil, called pomace oil, produced is refined, in order to become edible. The olive oil emerges from that process is available for consumption only as a mixture with virgin oil and is of inferior quality.
The olive liquid obtained by malaxation is led to centrifugal separators where the oil is separated from the aqueous portion. The ingredients that are eliminated are called katsigaros. From katsigaros it is possible to produce industrial olive oil intended for refining or industrial use. Virgin olive oil emerges from the pure liquid.
Olives weighing 100 kg, usually give 10-25 kg of oil, 35-50 kg of pomace oil and 35-50 kg of liquid residues.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a free acidity of ≤0.8%, Virgin Olive Oil ≤2.0% while Olive Oil intended for refining or industrial use has > 2.0%.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains intact all the basic ingredients of an olive fruit. Its use in baking, sautéing, grilling, dressing, soup making and elsewhere, improves the taste of food and benefits our health.
Olive oil contains a variety of bioactive ingredients. Its use degrades fat from the body’s fat cells, as the high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids it contains, replace saturated fatty acids. Thus, it helps protect against cardiovascular disease, reduce weight, regulate insulin, and helps fight some types of cancer.
Olive oil also helps prevent diseases that cause cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s.
Its phenolic components have anti-inflammatory and chemoprotective properties, as they increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels and reduce lipid oxidative stress markers.
Vitamins A, D, E and K, found in olive oil, help protect against free radicals and cell oxidation, i.e. it acts as an anti-aging agent.
Ouzo is a distilled anise-flavoured, alcoholic aperitif. It is produced with the distillation of alcohol from wine by-products and, more rarely from cereals, as well as from the alcohol derived from sugar beet by-products. The traditional distillation method requires handmade copper stills, named amvykes.
A variation of ouzo was known already in the ancient times. It is said that it was first made by the Egyptians, of which it passed to Classical Greece. It was also extremely popular in the territories of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Its production spread all over Greece after the country gained its independence from the Ottomans.
The island of Lesvos, and the town Plomari in particular, is considered the homeland of the modern brand, since ouzo production commenced there in the 19th century. There are two museums located in Plomari: the Isidoros Arvanitos Distillery Ouzo Museum and the Varvagiannis Distillery Ouzo Museum.
There are various stories explaining the origins of the word ouzo. According to the most popular, crates stamped with the words “uso Massalia” i.e. “for use in Marseille” were exported to Marseille. Due to the excellent quality of the products exported to France’s largest port, the phrase became synonymous with good quality.
Ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece and is exported to more than 40 countries. The name and origin of ouzo are protected by the European Union (PGI – Protected Geographical Indication), therefore it cannot be produced by another countries. The phrase Ouzo Plomariou also holds a PGI status.
Ouzo is flavoured through the distillation process mainly with anise, which adds a characteristic scent, but producers also use other herbs and fruits such as coriander, fennel, cloves, angelica root, clove, cardamom, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, mastic and linden.
By law, ouzo production requires at least 20% of the alcohol to pass through the distillation process. Some producers choose to make 100% distilled ouzo. Its ABV must be over 37.5%.
Each distiller uses his own recipe that describes which herbs and fruits and in what quantity will be used, as well as how many times the distillate will pass through the cauldron. The water and anise used, are key factors. The capacity of the producer also plays an important role that affects the quality of the distillate.
Nowadays, bottled ouzo is the only legal form of the product’s distribution. Ouzo is served along with a variety of appetizers (meze), usually seafood and olives, mainly salted, and is poured in tall glasses in which ideally, cold water is first added to ouzo and ice cubes follow. Due to the presence of anise, ouzo becomes milky white when mixed with water.
A typical glass of ouzo has 150 calories and in a reasonable amount has healing properties. In particular, it lowers blood pressure, while its ingredients fight liver disease and relieve Crohn’s disease effects. Anise also helps with intestinal function and absorbs iron from food. Terpenes have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and protect cells from neurological diseases, heart disease, and cancer.
Red Greek Saffron
Crocus Sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus, is a plant from which one of the most expensive spices is derived. Its reproduction is achieved through the splitting and sowing of its bulbs.
Evidence of its use as an aromatic plant were found in Asia Minor and Ancient Egypt. It was also popular in Minoan and Classical Greece where they used it as a pigment as well. The Greeks were also aware of its beneficial properties against insomnia and intoxication. The Arabs discovered its use as an anesthetic.
Saffron cultivation requires dry and hot summer and cold winter conditions, dry, calcareous, and flat soil, without trees nearby. Sowing takes place in June and July and harvest in late October or early November.
The flower blossoms at dawn and should be detached as soon as possible from the plant because it withers quickly, resulting the stigmas to lose their vivid colour and scent. Once the flowers are collected, the stigmas are separated from the flower.
It takes 85,000 flowers for a kilo of fresh crocus stigmas. The stigmas then are dried to be preserved for long and to acquire the red colour. From one kilo or 10,000 pieces of fresh stigmas are produced 200 grams of dried stigmas. In order to maintain their characteristics, stigmas must be protected from moisture, sunlight and heat. The whole process should be completed by the end of March.
The village of Krokos close to Kozani and some other villages nearby in the western part of Macedonia was the only place in Greece saffron was cultivated, until 2017 when production also commenced in Neos Skopos, near Serres in the eastern part of Macedonia. The annual crocus production ranks Greece in the world’s top three nations.
Cultivation in Kozani began in the 17th century. It is harvested, dried and packaged according to a method used in antiquity.
Krokos (saffron) Kozanis’ use as a spice, is famous worldwide due to its excellent quality, strong taste and vivid colour, and is a protected designation of origin by the European Union.
The soil and the weather conditions in the area favour saffron’s cultivation. Combined with the producers’ deep knowledge of the required method, a product of exceptional quality emerges.
Besides the taste Krokos Kozanis adds to food, it has many medicinal properties as well, due to the ingredients picrocrocin and crocin it contains. Krokos Kozanis also contains vitamin B12, lycopene, zeaxanthin, alpha-beta carotene, vitamin C, iron, potassium and magnesium.
Studies show that saffron stigmas are water-soluble carotenoids that can inhibit the growth of leukemic cells.
Here’s a list of the beneficial impact of saffron on our health:
– contributes to the treatment of ophthalmic disease;
– relieves stomach ache;
– soothes kidney pain;
– in small doses stimulates the appetite and facilitates digestion;
– reduces gastric pain, hysteria, convulsions, whooping cough and nervous colic;
– protects the skin from acne with its external use;
– has antidepressant, antioxidant, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties (for neuroblastoma, breast cancer and adenocarcinoma of the colon);
– enhances brain function and memory;
– lowers cholesterol and has anticoagulant action;
– lowers blood pressure;
– helps with asthma attacks, premenstrual syndrome, nausea, digestive disorders, teething disorders;
– has aphrodisiac properties and
– contributes in the fight against stress and pneumococcal diseases
Saffron can be swallowed as a beverage or used as a spice. As far as cooking is concerned it should be used in small quantities. It adds a spicy taste to food has a nice scent and a yellow colour. It can also be added in powder form, dissolved in water.
As a spice, it is often sold in a package of one, two, four and 28 grams. However, it can be found as well in smaller quantities in powder form – from 0.25 to one gram.
The dyeing properties of Krokos Kozanis, result to its use in the colour industry and in the textile dyeing sector.
Tsipouro is a quite popular Greek un-aged brandy. According to tradition, tsipouro was first made by monks in Mount Athos (in Greek: Agion Oros) in the 14th century. Soon its production became known to other places as well, such as Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly and Crete, where a variant of tsipouro, named Tsikoudia or Raki is far more popular. Tsikoudia, the traditional drink of Crete, is a product of single distillation, unlike tsipouro.
Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit containing 40-45% alcohol by volume. The raw material for the production of distillate is the marcs or pomace, i.e. the residue of the wine press that takes place in the autumn. Pomace contains the skins of the grapes, seeds, and parts of unleavened, fermented or fully fermented must. The seeds make up 3-6%, the skin 6-9% and the flesh 75-85% of the mass from which tsipouro is produced. Both white and red grapes are being used.
The product obtained from the first distillation of the marcs can be consumed without undergoing a second distillation. Double-distilled tsipouro is cleaner and finer in aroma and taste. During the second distillation some producers add aromatic substances such as anise, fennel, clove, nutmeg and mastic, a method common mostly in Thessaly and in Macedonia. In Epirus and Crete, they prefer to drink pure tsipouro, commonly known as tsipouro “without anise”. Tsipouro “with anise” whitens like ouzo when water is added.
Nowadays, some producers use the whole of the pulp, without taking out the must for wine production. Spirits are being made from grape varieties such as Roditis, Muscat, Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malagousia. The most common variety used for tsipouro is Muscat (in Greek: Moschato) of Tyrnavos.
Until the end of the 20th century, production of tsipouro was secretly made in houses. The recipe of the distillation process of each family has been passed down from generation to generation. Selling spirits was banned until 1988. Very few winegrowers in certain areas had the right to distill and trade it exclusively within the borders of the region it was made. From 1988 onwards, the legislation provides that the production and distribution of tsipouro throughout Greece is possible under a special permit.
Traditionally tsipouro is served along with two shot glasses right before the main course. It is usually consumed cool at 10-15 ° C in order to retain its aroma.
Tsipouro has become very popular in recent years and is available in most restaurants. Tsipouradika, restaurants that serve tsipouro along with a wide variety of appetisers (meze), can be found all over Greece. With each new order, Tsipouradika offer their customers a new course, different than the previous one. Meze is not the same everywhere and depends on the geographical area the restaurant is located.
Even to this day, in Mount Athos the monks welcome pilgrims offering tsipouro and loukoumi (=Turkish delight).
Yoghurt is a nutritious, digestible and light food in the form of white, smooth cream. It comes from freshly fermented milk. Due to the lactic acid it contains from the fermentation of lactose, it acquires a slightly acidic, pleasant flavour. Yoghurt contains relatively few calories, but all the basic milk ingredients.
The word yoghurt derives from the Turkish yogurt. It is believed that it was made in areas of present-day Turkey and Iran in the 5th century BC.
Nowadays, in the Western world people consume mainly cow yoghurt, in Southeastern Europe sheep yoghurt is preferred, while in Egypt and India buffalo yoghurt is the best-selling.
For Greece, yoghurt is an important export product with very large domestic consumption. Recently, the Greek Government opened the process of creating an application dossier for the registration of the name “Greek Yoghurt” as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), in order to prevent counterfeiting attempts by other countries, that use the name Greek yoghurt or Greek-style yoghurt instead.
Homemade yoghurt is produced by boiling milk in open containers. After boiling, it is left to cool until it reaches the temperature it had at the time of collection. Next, prepared yoghurt is added, and the mixture is covered and placed in a relatively warm environment for several hours, where it cools gradually. In this phase, it is fermented, coagulated and prepared for consumption.
In dairies they usually add milk solids to cow’s milk. Condensed and sterilised milk is inoculated and fermented with bacteria of Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacilus bulgaricus and Lactobacilus acidophilus. The resulting milk is incubated for 4-5 hours at 43-44 degrees Celsius until the gel is formed. Automated packaging and refrigeration procedures follow, before the product goes on sale. Yoghurt should be kept refrigerated. Production and expiration date should not exceed the one-month frame. Regular yoghurt is the one with the most vitamins.
Commercial yoghurt is marketed as:
– Strained yoghurt, with most of its whey removed. It contains regular cow’s milk and flower milk, with fat ranging from 10% to 0% (Light).
– Classic cow or sheep yoghurt, with fat from 4% up to 0% (Light). It is made from skimmed or semi-skimmed, raw or condensed milk. Yoghurts with skin on the surface are also available in Greece. In this type of yoghurt, fat is concentrated on the skin, so by removing it, less calories are consumed. In fresh yogurt the skin is thin, smooth, white-yellow coloured and brittle.
– Yoghurt with added substances suitable for constipation problems.
– Yoghurt with the addition of fruit, honey, sugar, biscuits, cereals or caramel, suitable for use at any time of the day and quite popular amongst teenagers and kids.
In Greece yoghurt is often consumed as a dessert, mixed with honey and nuts, while it is the main ingredient in tzatziki. It is also found in kebab-giaourtlou, as an accompaniment to pilaf, kebabs, pies and salads and as a side dish to appetizers. In confectionery it is used in making cookies, cakes, and ice creams, while we also find it as an additive in margarines.
Yoghurt diluted with cold water and salt makes ariani, a drink known mainly in Macedonia and Thrace.
Yoghurt is a relatively low-fat food. In the early 20th century, Russian Nobel laureate biologist Ilya Metchnikoff concluded that yogurt is beneficial for the digestive system (thanks to the enzymes it contains) and boosts longevity. Also, its live and active bacteria have a positive effect on the intestinal microflora and the production of intestinal antibodies. It is also an ideal food for children having lactose problems, however, excessive consumption or consumption by people lactose intolerant, can cause uncontrolled bowel movements. Additionally, yoghurt helps skin health. It contains proteins, B vitamins, a sufficient amount of vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and a large amount of zinc. As all products made from milk, it is rich in calcium which helps in good bone health.
Yoghurt’s other benefits:
It prevents bladder infections and cystitis.
It produces substances and natural antibiotics, capable of destroying bacteria that cause tuberculosis.
It is anti-cholesterol.
It protects the gastric mucosa.
It contains probiotic agents, which break down foreign estrogens.
Yoghurt’s lactic acid has antiseptic properties.
It strengthens the immune system and in combination with antibiotics, benefits recovery.
Traditional yogurt reduces bad breath and protects against caries.