It’s All Greek (Mastiha) To Me
Last year, a glowing little store called the mastihashop opened on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side. Mastiha is the hand-harvested resin from the trunk of mastic trees grown on Chios, Greece. It has been used for therapeutic purposes since Hippocrates’ time, and was studied by the University of Nottingham as a treatment for peptic ulcers.
The store is a veritable festival of Mastiha: flavored candies and sweet treats, spice shakers for cooking, teas, homeopathic powder for digestive problems, gum, and skincare products (developed in conjunction with the slick Greek beautycare brand Korres). Here are some of the forms you can taste at the store:
The mastihashop is run by sisters Kalliopi and Artemis Kohas. Kalliopi recently took some time to chat with me about introducing the magical sap to the US. –Kat
How did you get into the mastiha business?
My sister and I have been surrounded by mastiha our whole lives and when the “mastihashops” were created in Greece we knew that we wanted to participate in mastiha’s renaissance and be the ones to bring it to the US. We approached the company and to our good fortune they chose to work with us.
What have you learned in the past year since launching mastihashop?
I have learned that no matter how excellent your product is, without the proper exposure and channels of distribution your product won’t get the attention and sales it deserves. The biggest challenge is being proactive and creative everyday in order to educate the public to a product that they have never even heard of.
What has the response been like so far? How have people responded to the combination of heritage and science?
The majority of people who come into the store are impressed with mastiha’s therapeutic qualities and are amazed that they haven’t encountered it before. Mastiha has such an illustrious history in which it has been used for oral care, beauty care and digestion. It’s especially appealing to consumers now that it has the scientific data to support what people have known for thousands of years.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 products would you most want to have with you?
Definitely the raw mastiha resin since you can chew it to keep the teeth and gums healthy, ingest it for gastrointestinal health, and use it as a spice. The second item would be the olive oil soap with mastiha since clean and moisturized skin is a priority and that soap lasts for a really long time. The third product would be the honey because I just love it!
The mastiha promise resonates on an intuitive level- it’s natural, has an incredible heritage, and modern science seems to be identifying the nuts and bolts of its physiological impact. The Chios Growers Association and its daughter company Mediterra S.A. (with the help of EU funding) have invested a great deal in creating informative glossy brochures and snazzy branding. Will mastiha reach the tipping point and become as ubiquitous as gingko or ginseng? It remains to be seen how quickly the word will spread, and if the plethora of its benefits (anti-microbial, positive effect on cardiac conditions, “healing activity” against peridontitis, esophagitis, colitis and other inflammatory conditions) will persuade or overwhelm American consumers.