Mastic (FAO, NWFP 6)

From PlantUse English
Jump to: navigation, search
Coppen, Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin, 1995
Dragon's blood

  • See the main page Copal (in French)

  • Extract from : NWFP 6. Coppen J.J.W., 1995. Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin. FAO, Rome. 142 p. (Non-Wood Forest Products, 6). on line




Although usually termed a gum, mastic is a hard resin, produced by tapping the stem bark of the small tree Pistacia lentiscus, which is cultivated on the Greek island of Chios.

Mastic is produced in the form of small tears, pale yellow in colour, clear and glassy in nature and liable to fracture. Its age-long use in Arab countries has been for chewing, where it sweetens the breath and helps preserve the teeth and gums. Its aromatic properties also make it suitable as a flavouring agent for alcoholic beverages. In the past it was also used in the manufacture of high-grade varnishes for paintings, and for medicinal purposes.

An essential oil can be distilled from the gum and finds some use for fragrance and flavouring purposes.



Since Greece is by far the most important source of internationally traded mastic, production in Chios is also a fair measure of world demand. In the mid-1940s, annual production was around 300 tonnes. Greek sources estimated production at about 250 tonnes and 200 tonnes in 1961 and 1963, respectively. In 1975, production was put at 300 tonnes. Demand appears, therefore, to have been maintained at around 200-300 tonnes annually for some time. Recent figures are not known.

Apart from the Middle Eastern countries, where mastic is used for chewing, the United States and Europe also import it. In the United States and Europe, part of the mastic is distilled to produce essential oil.

Supply sources

Greece is by far the most important (and may well be the only) source of mastic of commerce. Production levels have been indicated above. Countries such as Algeria and Morocco have offered occasional, small quantities in the past.

Quality and prices

There are a number of different grades of mastic corresponding to degrees of cleanliness and size and shape of the tears. Exuded resin that has not been allowed to drop to the ground before collection and has formed perfect tears is the best quality and fetches the highest price.

An illustrative price for small quantities of No. 1 small tears (mid-1995, CIF London) is US$ 60/kg. Discounts are available for larger quantities. There has been a steady upward trend in prices in recent years.



Botanical name

Family Anacardiaceae: Pistacia lentiscus L. var. chia

Description and distribution

Pistacia lentiscus is an evergreen, shrubby tree which normally grows to a height of about 2-4 m; exceptionally, it may grow to about 5 m. It is slow growing and long lived, and attains its full development at 50-60 years. The natural habit of the plant is bush-like, but under cultivation for mastic gum only one or two shoots are allowed to grow and develop into stems; the mature plant consists of one or two thick, contorted stems with an umbrella-shaped crown.

Other Pistacia species, such as Pistacia vera, yield an exudate resin but Pistacia lentiscus is the only one which is tapped commercially.

Pistacia lentiscus prefers an arid, sub-tropical climate and occurs in coastal Mediterranean regions of both southern Europe and north Africa, and some of the islands in the Mediterranean such as Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. However, it is only cultivated for mastic on the Aegean island of Chios, where it occurs as Pistacia lentiscus var. chia; it is often interspersed with olive trees.


In Chios, tapping and collection of the resin is limited to a 3-month period in late summer between July and October. The first light tappings are made when the tree is about six years old. A number of short, shallow incisions are made into the bark of the stem and the main branches. The wounds penetrate a few mm into the bark as far as the cambium; the number of wounds depends on the age and size of the tree. Further cuts are made at approximately one-week intervals. The first tapping period continues for 5-6 weeks and after a further 10 days, during which time the last of the exuded resin dries and solidifies, the first collection is made. This entails picking up pieces of resin that have fallen on the ground as well those adhering to the trunk of the tree. A second tapping and collection is made in the second half of the season.

After collection, the mastic is laid out to dry and foreign matter is removed by a combination of sieving and hand picking. The semi-cleaned resin is then soaked in water which serves to remove most of the adhering dirt and smaller impurities; it also gives the pieces of resin an added lustre.


The mastic plant starts yielding reasonable amounts of resin, about 30 g/year, at 10-12 years of age. Yields then gradually increase to about 300-400 g per tree at the age of 50-60 years. Individual trees have been known to yield up to 1 kg under favourable conditions.



An essential oil can be produced in 1-3% yield by steam distillation of the resin. Extraction of the resin with a suitable solvent yields a mastic resinoid.


No other products of economic value are obtained from the tree.


The market for mastic is firm but modest. If supplies continue to be available from Chios, then there is unlikely to be much scope for new entrants to the market, whether from wild or cultivated plant sources. Given also that Pistacia lentiscus is slow growing, that the traditional mastic comes from a particular variety that occupies an ecological niche in Chios, and that it is some years before any economic returns are gained from cultivated plants, there is little developmental potential in mastic as far as new producers are concerned.


  • CHENOPOULOS, D. (1961) [Pistacia lentiscus and mastic production in Chios] (in Greek). Dasika Chronika, 3(4/5), 140-149.
  • DAVIDSON, D.F.D. (1948) Report on the gum mastic industry in Chios. Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, 46(2-4), 184-191.
  • GUENTHER, E. (1952) Oil of mastic. pp 169-170. In The Essential Oils, Vol. 5. New York: Van Nostrand Co.
  • KATSIOTIS, S. and OIKONOMOU, N.G. (1984) Qualitative and quantitative GLC analysis of the essential oil of Pistacia lentiscus (mastic) from different districts of Chios Island. Pharmakeutikon Deltion Epistemonike Ekdosis, 10(1), 17-28.
  • MARNER, F.J., FREYER, A. and LEX, J. (1991) Triterpenoids from gum mastic, the resin of Pistacia lentiscus. Phytochemistry, 30(11), 3709-3712.
  • PAPAGEORGIOU, V.P., MELLIDIS, A.S S. and ARGYRIADOU, N. (1991) The chemical composition of the essential oil of mastic gum. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 3, 107-110.
  • PICCI, V., SCOTTI, A., MARIANI, M. and COLOMBO, E. (1987) Composition of the volatile oil of Pistacia lentiscus L. of Sardinian origin. pp 107-110. In Flavour Science and Technology. Martens, M., Dalen, G.A. and Russwurm, H. (eds.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • SCRUBIS, B., MARKAKIS, P. and ZABIK, M.J. (1975) Essential oil of mastic gum. International Flavours and Food Additives, 6(6), 349 and 356.

TSITSA, S. (1963) The mastic shrub of Chios. Dasika Chronika, 5(8), 364-366.