“ Masticha girl,” Artemis Kohas, has been educating customers about the medicinal, aesthetic, and culinary treasures of her native island’s resin for 5 ½ years from the small shop she runs on Orchard Street in the historic Lower East Side, a neighborhood known for its strong immigrant texture. As a first-generation Greek-American whose parents come from one of the 24 “Mastic Villages,” she stands proud behind the natural product. “We have so much by way of natural products in Greece,” she says, “the problem is we don’t market them enough.”
Her store, Mastiha Shop, is trying to change all that. By featuring products cultivated by the official cooperative of the growers of mastiha in Chios, she has become a de facto “mastiha ambassador.” “We are all ambassadors of Greek culture if we are Greek,” she contends. . “Masticha has become a vehicle for educating the public about masticha and Greek culture, lifestyle, and natural products,” she explains. “If you go to dinner at a friend’s house, bring along a Greek something—a Greek desert, a Greek wine, even Greek jewelry,” she suggests, “You should educate others about your culture because in essence that is who you are.”
The Masticha shop is part of a chain of stores established 11 years ago by the official cooperative of growers of masticha in Chios, which has been in existence from 1938 (first shop sprung up in Chios, but they have expanded to other shops in Athens, in Eleftherios Venezelos Airport, Thessaloniki, Cyprus, Paris, and their newest flagship in Turkey). It features products as varied as the typical chewing gum to mastiha-infused toothpaste, mastiha-concocted soaps, marmalades infused with mastiha, even facial creams and hair products. The cooperative is currently expanding its product line by developing new cosmetics and creams with mastiha. Masticha is hand-cultivated, fair trade, green sustainable renewable resource with over 300 known uses. It dovetails comfortably into the natural food movement. Artemis assigns it to say the level of acai, pomegranate or wheat grass.
“I am from Chios but honestly, I did not even know all the uses of masticha until all these shops came around,” she confesses.
Ironically, because Chios was a region occupied by so many invaders, especially the Ottomans, the Chiotes were prohibited from using it for their own personal use. If they were caught ever keeping any for themselves, they were punished severely (for example, their fingers cut off.) As a result, mastiha is much more widely used in other places than on the island of its origin. The local culture lacks customs The Sultans loved it, and the Arabs went out of their way to import it.
As for the charge that the raw resin is hard to chew and sort of “weird,” the response from the public is quite the opposite. “Definitely, the majority of people love it, Americans, all different ethnicities. Even the raw resin. New Yorkers are especially savvy and they want something that is pure and good for them and they don’t mind chewing something a bit different,” she shares. “It’s actually addicting. I have customers who can’t stop chewing the raw resin because it helps them focus.”
As for the charge that it is too expensive, Artemis retorts that “people spend a fortune on a truffle, why not mastiha?”
“I think of Mastichashop as a new way of looking at something ancient,” Artemis contends.
The shop is always open 24/7 when you log onto www.mastihashopnyc.com.
Looking for a new twist to an age-old tradition? Why not use mastiha products in your bridal/baptismal favors and gift bags? Products are versatile enough to fit into many budgets.
[starlist][/starlist]mastiha taffy doused with vysinno (sour cherry syrup)
[starlist][/starlist]marmalades tinged with mastiha flavor
Depending on your budget, you can create a favor in a commemorative tin box for $20 and with just 3 or 4 food arrangements (in your own tulle bag) for $10.