2008_07_mastiha.jpgTime Out New York’s current issue has a feature documenting ingredients used in both restaurant kitchens and industrial settings like labs and factories: The chemical methylcellulose, for instance, is not only used by chefs like Sam Mason at Tailor, but is also very closely related to a key ingredient of K-Y.

Another peculiar ingredient is mastic (or mastiha), which is often stored next to the tapioca maltodextrin in the kitchens mentioned in the TONY piece. It's been used in Greek and Turkish food for centuries and is derived from the sap of a tree distantly related to the pistachio plant. Food writer Lilia Zaouali provides a (circa 13th century) recipe for beef cooked with rosebuds and mastic, in this book. These days, chefs like Michael Psilakis and Alex Stupak use the stuff, but it’s not new.

For whatever reason, the hardened, hand-collected sap gathered a few times a year from a particular tree on an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea never really caught on. Mastiha is the chief component in stretchy, Plasticman-esque Turkish ice cream, which is flown in monthly (in limited shipments) by Brooklyn baklava den Güllüoglu, and can sometimes be found on the dessert menu at Molyvos.

In its raw state, mastiha looks a little like rock candy and smells like pitch pine. Chew a hunk and you’ll likely detect some mint, fennel, or eucalyptus. Strangely, there’s a mini-universe of mastic downtown, straight from the island of Chios; the only outpost in North America of the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association, a Greek co-op whose products have DOP protection. The brightly lit store on Orchard Street sells feta with mastiha, mastiha-tinged chocolate, and mastiha-infused oils. Pick up a block of Mastiha Turkish Delight and a box of mastic. The shop will send you home with a recipe booklet so you can do your own experimentation at home.

Mastiha Shop // 145 Orchard Street // (212) 253-0895

Turkish Delight, with mastic, from Mastihashop.