The island of Crete is a place that you can see thousand of plants and herbs, many of which are indigenous, thousand of flowers and trees decorate the natural environment, an environment full of light, since the sun shines clearly most of the year. From ancient times the people of this island based their nutrition on local products like, mountain greens and legumes/pulses, meat and fish, honey, cheese, wine and all these in a thousand unbelievable combinations that make up delicious tastes.
It is said that god Zeus himself was born on Crete and here he tasted the milk from the local wild goat, our golden honey, and the local
wine. For many years now it is known that our cuisine has the unique taste of freshness and originality, we enjoy our traditional tastes and smell the herbs like a separate blessing from our ancient Gods.
Nowadays the interest of science has turned towards Cretan nutrition and look for answers to a lot of diseases and it seems to be that Cretan diet makes people healthy to enjoy their lives until their deep old age. Some years before, the progress of civilization and the fashion
influenced people to abandon the simple Cretan diet and traditional way of life. Now the traditional recipes are still in use and result in a true challenge to both the locals and foreigners. It seems to be that a lot of people have understood the value of the Cretan nutrition and they are starting to follow many of its habits and recipes.
Olive oil and its qualities
Olive oil is one of the most important elements of the Cretan civilization. During the Minoan period, the olive oil was offering big incomes to the economy. Cretan olive oil was connected with the nutritive civilization ,as well as with religious ceremonials, medicine and pastry making. Olive oil benefits our health and is ideal for the nutritious needs of a human body. It is rich in monounsaturated fatly acids and natural antioxidants, as well as in vitamins A and E, which are responsible for slowing down the human cell aging process. Olive oil tones up the human organism making it produce and store up energy. Olive oil grading follows international quality standards according to the method of production, the level of acidity and basic organic characteristics. Taste and smell, in connection with colour, are the three areas cheched by international testers in assesing the quality level of the product.
Colour does not always prove the quality of an oil. A good oil can be from green to golden yellow. It can even seem cloudy if it has not
settled yet.The colour of the product depends on the main substances of the olive fruit that the oil has been made from. If chlorophyll is the main factor, then the oil will lean more towards the colour green. If carotene is the main substance, then the oil will be more golden yellow. The oil from olives, that have been gathered in the beginning of the harvesting period, usually produce oil of a greener colour, due to the chlorophyll they contain.
Taste & Smell
Olive oil reminiscent of the scent either of fruit or of oil fresh from pressing is believed to be excellent. This is the same with wine as testers try to pinpoint pleasant smells which remind them of other products, such as fruit, like apples or nuts, etc.The smell and taste are due to a large amount of scenting agents which give the consumer the idea of fresh fruit. A bitter taste shows that the olives used were not ripe when picked. A pleasant smell and taste can also be put down to the area in which the olives grew and the way they were cultivated. A fruit taste comes from ripe olives which have balanced characteristics. Olive oil with an unpleasant smell and taste is better avoided. Smelly soil or mould down-grade a product. It is needed the experience for someone to safely assess an oil.
The degree of acidity in olive oil indicates the oleic acid content. It is believed to be edible, according to the International Olive Oil Council, when the acidity does not exceed 3.3 degrees (content of oleic acid 3.3%). In reality, olive oil which has an acidity level of no more than one is much better. You should always read the label on an olive oil bottle to see the degree of the acidity. In Greece, there is excellent olive oil with acidity level of no more than one is much better. You should always read the label on an alive oil bottle to see the degree of the acidity. In Greece, there is excellent olive oil with acidity less than 0.5 degrees! The degree of
acidity greatly affects the taste.
Olive oil with a higher lever of acidity makes its presence known on first tasting it as it has a pungent spicy unpleasant taste. Methods of harvesting, storage and pressing can affect the level of acidity. Organic olive oil produces transfer olives to the press, not in sacks but in boxes, which do not press or bruise the fruit. Also, producers take care to not store them more than one or two days so that the fruit is not spoilt.
Oxidization (rancidity) is one of the most important causes of spoiling oil. Conditions of storage (light, oxygen etc) help oxidization. This is easily spotted by a tester without scientific tests, as the taste is badly affected by oxidization. Olive oil producers can distinguish good quality from rancid olive oil, after years of experience. Oxidization reduces or destroys the basic components in olive oil, especially those which are unique to this produce, in contrast to all the other fat substances. It can destroy the fat-soluble vitamins or the fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic but it can also produce substances which are dangerous for the human body
From ancient times, the wine in Crete and generally in Greece, is in life of the Greeks, in days of joy or in sorrow, in days of freedom or in days of slavery. Many songs and poems have been written for this tasteful drink, from Homerous to modern poets. According to our mythology god Dionesus taught the production of wine in our country and for many centuries it was a necessary product for celebrations for the Cretan and generally Greek people. The wine contains 85% water, 14% alcohol and 1% other substances.
There are wines that contain more alcohol and various quantities of inseparable sugar etc. The quality of wine depends on the sweetness of grapes, their maturity, their cleanliness etc. The different varieties of wine are due to the way of the production and to the various substances that are added from the wine producers.
Wines that contain the bunches of the grapes are the coloured wines, the wines that don’t contain grapes are white wines. The resined wines contains resin of pines, the fragrant wines contains various substances that give the smell to the wine.
The wine is one of the most healthier drinks, it helps to the digestion, it also tones up and gives energy to the human organism, but this beneficial action of wine have validity only in drinking normal quantities!! Crete produces a variety of red (marsini from Sitia, mantiko, mantilari-kotsifali), white (vilana, linktos), sweet (toplou estate, viglinos), resined (retsina kernos, ekavi) wines and of course the traditional Cretan drink of tsikoudia (raki).
Honey is a product that the bees collect from the living parts of the plants or from the outgoings of insects. Then they transport it to their swarm to enrich it ,with their products and they store it up to the honeycomb, until it becomes ripe.
We can classify honey according to its botanical origin as honey from thyme, from fir tree, from pine, from various flowers etc. Cretan honey has excellent quality and it has much nutritious value.
It is also used as antiseptic, it is incomparably superior from sugar because it is assimilated easier by the human body. Do not forget that, in Greek mythology, “Ambrossia” was the food of the gods of Olympus, and it was made of milk and honey.
The land is one of the richest places in the world for indigenous plants! These plants were often used in the Cretan cuisine. Sometimes they were used to make a dish much more tasty and at other times, they were used to make teas which were frequently drunk. Botanical studies have shown that the island has one of the most interesting eco-systems in Europe and that many of the indigenous plants have been used not only in traditional folklore medicine, but also in pharmaceuticals.
In the villages, anyone can find a great number of herbs, some with a strong and distinct while others with a less potent smell and taste. There are still many people, usually of the older generation, who can recognize a lot of herbs, know which season they should collect them and always have a well-stocked house of herbs.
Herbs are maintaining good health as they contain large amounts of antioxidative agents.
DITTANY (origanum dictamus)
In ancient times, doctors believed that it cured all illnesses and that it helped in the process of giving birth. The goddess of love, Aphrodite is said to have come to the island of Crete in order to get some dittany to use as a medicine. On Crete it was always seen as a plant of love, they believed that the plant itself encouraged feelings of love and it was a usual present between lovers.
ORREGANO (origanum onites)
It is a well known aromatic plant and it is used in folklore medicine, in the form of a tea, as a cure for diarrhoea. It is also used in different kinds of food (roasted potatoes in olive oil and oregano, tomato salads etc.)
ROSEMARY (rosmarinus officinalis)
In the old days, rosemary was a useful ally of good health as it was frequently put to use as a folklore medicinal remedy, such as an antiseptic, a relief for headaches, pain in the stomach and the back. It is also a good product to make your hair shiny and to stop the loss of them.
SAGE (salvia fruticosa)
It is a well known herb with a strong smell and taste. It grows nearly all over the island and is ingeniously used in folklore medicine for cases of colds or stomach problems. It is generally considered to be tonic and it is drunk in the form of a tea with honey. The ethereal oil from this plant is especially good at reducing toothache.