Mastic gum, also known as the Arabic gum is the resin of the mastic tree found in the Mediterranean. People have been chewing mastic gum for its healing properties for centuries. It's especially known for healing stomach ulcers, freshening the breath and helping with acid reflux. It has a wide use in the kitchen too, it gives coffee, liqueur, ice cream, mastic jam, pastries, desserts a distinctive taste, aroma and texture.
You can purchase mastic gum in specialty stores, in most Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. Mastic gum is an expensive product, usually sold in tiny containers or bags. The price is easily justified considering that harvesting is done entirely by hand, first the trees are prepared for the harvest by cleaning and putting a special dry clay on the soil under the trees, then each tree trunk is scored multiple times with a special tool to allow the resin to slowly ooze out of the tree. The resin then falls on the clay, this helps the resin to dry and stay clean while it solidifies. The mastic pieces are later harvested by hand, washed multiple times, dried under the sun and finally cleaned with a sharp knife before it's ready to sell. Greece, more specifically the island of Chios is the biggest producer of mastic gum.
When crushing, room temperature mastic tends to get flat and stick which makes it difficult to use in recipes. I find that the easiest way to grind mastic gum is freezing the piece you will use in the recipe, instead of getting flat the mastic gum shatters like glass, to remedy the tiny pieces of mastic going all over the place, place a few teaspoons of sugar in a mortar and pestle along with the mastic and crush slowly until it becomes very finely ground.
In these cookies, the mastic gum is only used to flavour, it can be omitted or replaced with citrus zest or even vanilla. It adds an incredible aroma to the delicate taste of the almonds. Since this is a flourless cookie recipe, it's best to use a finely ground almond flour rather than almond meal so the cookies will have a finer texture. They keep well for days in an airtight container. This recipe makes about 2 dozen small cookies.
Adapted from Rachel's Food for Living by Rachel Allen
- 200 grams almond flour
- 70-100 grams sugar
- 2 egg whites
- Small piece of mastic gum, or zest of a lemon
- Sliced almonds
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Mix the ground almonds, sugar and crushed mastic gum in a bowl.
- Beat the egg whites lightly with a fork.
- Add the egg whites to the almond mixture and mix well.
- Form the crescents and roll in sliced almonds.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are golden brown.