The Mastic Cultivation Process
Processes performed by mastic growers
Cultivation of new trees: The cultivation of new trees takes place during the winter, from the beginning of January until mid-February. The producers cut branches from a male tree of good quality and plant them in depth of 40 to 60 centimetres. It is rather easy for a plant to be successful and it does not need special care in the beginning.
Pruning, cleaning, fertilization, and irrigation: Pruning of a tree begins on its third year and then takes place every year during the winter, from the beginning of January until mid-February. The dry branches are removed so that the tree can become stronger and to facilitate air and sun supply for the trees. The wounds from the cut branches are covered with a substance (katrami) to proof them from microorganisms. Fertilization of the field takes place in January or February and the producers use ammonium sulphate when the soil is poor and potassium nitrate or calcium ammonium nitrate for red soil. An ecological fertilizer is beans (Vicia faba) which are planted in October. When they reach the time to bloom they are plowed in order to stop their growth. Because of the bacteria staying in the nearly bloomed beans, the soil becomes rich in nitrogen which is essential for the growth of the mastic trees. Young trees do not need water. Irrigation starts after the first year of the tree and it takes place two, three or four times per day depending the weather conditions. The older trees are resistant to drought. It is important to note that persistent humidity can damage the trees to the point of drying and become sensitive in infections.
Cleaning the soil: At the end of June until the beginning of July, producers clean, level and press the soil under the trees. Then the soil is covered with white clay so that the mastic resin that will fall will stay clean.
Kendima (embroidering): Kendima (as it is called in Greek; embroidering) takes place in July and August. The producers create vertical or linear incisions on the bark of the tree. The incisions are 4 to 5 centimetres deep and 10 to 15 centimetres long. The number of the incisions depend on the size of the tree. Vertical wounds heal faster. After kendima, the resin is left 10 to 20 days to dry.
Collecting: Collection of the dried mastic resin takes place from mid-August till mid-October. Usually big mastic pieces of resin fall on the soil while mastic ‘tears’ remain and dry on the bark and the branches.
Sifting and cleaning: Sifting helps to separate mastic gum from gathered dirt and leaves.
Cleaning with water: After sifting the producers clean the gum with soap and plenty of water. Producers that live in a village near the sea prefer to go to the seaside to clean the gum. It is easier in that way to separate them because the salty water keeps the dirt and leaves on the surface of the water while the mastic gum stays at the bottom of the basin.
Tsimbima (pinching): Tsimbima (as it is called in Greek; pinching) is the cleaning of the mastic gum with special knives in order any last dirt attached to the gum. It is performed by women.
Classification: Producers make a first classification of the mastic gum that is collected according to the following types:
- Pitta: flattened round pieces of 3-7 cm, they are created when many mastic drops fall on top of one another
- Fliskari or kandilera: smaller than pitta, more translucent, they hang from the incision
- Dachtilopetra: smaller than fliskari, they name means “rock of a finger ring”
- Tear: smaller than dachtilopetra, it takes its name because it is hanging from the tree like a “tear”
- Kiliasto or psilo: very small pieces in round shape that dry fast, they fall and roll on the ground
- Anapinada or neropinada: of lower quality because while drying it has absorbed water or dirt and therefore its economic value is lost
- Volarida or apovoliariki: mastic gum has gathered together and became a lump. That happens when the mastic is gathered before getting dry. Its economic value is diminished
- Dust: residues of processing
Processes performed by the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association
General processing upon arrival of mastic: When the Association receives mastic gum from the producers, further classification takes place according to the size of the gum. In general, they separate the pittas (usually large, round pieces), chondri (‘fat’ pieces) and psili (thin pieces). In this way they store the gum and gradually process it further depending on the demand. Sifting, cleaning with water, drying, weighting, tsimbima (pinching) take place.
Chewing gum production: For the production of mastic chewing gum, first the mixture is prepared which is made out of mastic, sugar, butter, corn flour, and water. The ingredients are placed in the blending machine to produce the mixture. After 15 minutes the mixture is taken out of the blending machine and it is placed on a marble counter. Then it is formed to pieces of maximum height 3 centimetres and left to cool. After cooling the pieces are transferred to the press and engraving machine where they are press and gum dragees are formed. At the end the dragees are cut and put in the candy machine to create their coating made out of syrup.
Mastic oil production: Mastic oil is produced through distillation.