In the latest years many mentions have been made about the Cretan Diet and Mediterranean Diet. So it is now well known that the Cretan Diet is not only aromatic and tasteful, but also extremely healthy. The food has already taken the right place in our culture, equivalent to our monumental identity and our sun and sea. The most important product that gave so much credit to Cretan Diet is our virgin olive oil. The contribution of the local wine, vegetables, meat, dairy products (feta cheese, gruere) is also significant.
The modern dietology considers the Cretan diet and the Cretan way of life as the reason for long living and good health. Most of the international researches bring Crete forward as the example of the Mediterranean Diet. Since the suggestion that the residents of the island have the lowest mortality rates internationally and the less heart attack or cancer diseases, scientists started searching for the identity of the Cretan Diet that gives the Cretans all these health privileges. But very soon it was obvious that it was all about a story well hidden in the past time. That means it isn’t a result of a research by some scientists but a biological experiment that lasts thousands of years!
The incorporation of olive oil in the dietary habits of the Cretans dates back to ancient times. The writings in Linear A and B tablets ascertain that Minoans used it in their nutrition dating at least as far back as 1800 BC.
Today, Cretans consume large quantities of virgin olive oil in all their foods. They use generous quantities in their salads, in their fried dishes (fish, potatoes, etc.), in boiled greens, in soups, in all oily dishes, in pastries and even in the preparation of pork!
Salads of fresh vegetables are an indispensable dish of the Cretan cuisine. However, they need fresh, extra virgin olive oil.
Virgin olive oil is incomparably superior for the frying of all foods. This is so because it boasts great tolerance in high temperatures, whilst other oils break up into units detrimental to human health, but also due to the fact that it adds to fried food better flavour than other oils. It is “accused” of adopting a slight odour after 2-3 uses. This, however, does not present a drawback. On the contrary, it is proof of its naturalness! This is the case because the dark green hue it produces after a few uses stems from the “cooking” of the natural coloration which it contains, and which is not contained in processed oils such as refined olive oils and naturally in seed oils!
Of course, virgin olive oil may be a bit more costly than refined olive oils or seed oils (that do not darken), but it is definitely worth its preference!
Roast or grilled meat and fishes consist also part of the Cretan diet. However, extra virgin olive oil is necessary for their preparation.
Oily foods, prepared in combination with various vegetables (beans, zucchinis, aubergines, okras), potatoes and meat, are incomparable when cooked in Extra Virgin Olive oil.
Boiled greens and legumes make up the basis of the Cretan Diet. But they are complemented with extra virgin olive oil.
For the Cretans, the secret of good health and long living is very simple. They eat all that their rich solid gives them. Many fruits, vegetables, groceries, legumes, varieties of cheese, olive oil and bread. They scent the taste with marvelous herbs like oregano, they make desserts with natural sweetening materials, honey and molasses, and accompany their meal with excellent local wine.
Olive oil Products
In addition to oil the olive tree also provides us with many other products.
Olives themselves, which are prepared in different ways depending on the variety, are used as an addition to lunches, salads and in many dishes and are an excellent, tasty and healthy food.
On Crete there are many well known traditional ways to prepare olives which are used at home for household purposes or in small industries for sale on the market. The best known ways are:
Green olives in brine or split olives which are prepared using the fruit of the Tsounati or Mouratolia varieties.
Black olives as a paste or in brine which are prepared from the thick fleshed varieties Throumbolia, Hondrolia or Tsounati or small fruited varieties and the most widespread variety on Crete, Lianolia or Coroneiki.
Olive tree wood has been used since antiquity as a fuel substance, for wooden piles in architecture, for column connectors, for agricultural and other tools and for constructing idols of gods and other wooden statues.
Today olive wood is the raw material for making furniture and wooden sculptures. On Crete there are quite a few excellent artisans who produce real masterpieces from olive wood. This hard, durable and at the same time excellent looking wood with its numerous natural formations is an exceptional raw material from making tables, chairs, beds and many other decorative items.
Olive leaves and branches have been used as mattresses since ancient times and are today used as animal feed and fuel.
The leaves of the olive tree which are removed from the fruit at the olive presses are used as a raw material for producing compost suitable for fertilizing olive plantations intended for the production of organic olive oil.
Honey and products of honey
Honey’s value has been appreciated from the ancient times:
In the Egyptian Papyruses, 3500 years ago, honey is mentioned as a healing treatment.
In the book of life of the ancient Indians is referred that honey and milk prolong life when they are used in the daily nutrition.
Nectar was the food of the immortal gods in Olympus. Zeus was brought up with honey from the nymph Bee.
Hippocrates recommended honey for the healing of many diseases and so did Aristotle who believed that honey prolonged life.
The Egyptians offered honeycombs to gods as a precious gift of loyalty and consoling.
Why honey and not sugar.
There exist many books about honey, that praise this wonderful natural product.
There was never something written against honey. On the contrary, sugar has been accused of causing many side effects in the human’s health. The high cholesterol level, headaches, tiredness, irritabilities, constipation and many more are attributed basically to the common sugar.
Sugar is an industrialized and of chemical elaboration product.
Honey is a natural biological product, directly from nature and allows of no elaboration.
Honey contains of 180 different substances, which are organically connected in such way that no one has ever accomplished its production with technical ways, although it’s well known consistence.
Nutrition value of honey
The honey sugars are simple, immediately absorbed and that is why honey is a fast energy source for our health system, for athletes, children, pregnant women, sick people or any feeble organism.
Honey has inorganic elements known as minerals, which help a lot the metabolism and the nutrition as elements needed in bones and cells, and also contribute in many enzyme systems and, finally, adjust the stomach acidity. The concentration of the honey vitamins isn’t enough for our daily needs, but help in the absorption of the sugars.
Honey has antiseptic characteristics, is toning, increases the heart beat function, reduces ulcer trouble in the stomach and generally and contributes in general in the good function of the human body.
Honey consumption helps in the quicker rehabilitation of health due to anemia, because of the ferrum that it consists.
Honey helps significantly in the quicker metabolism of alcohol and in that way it absolves from the condition of drunkenness.
Honey has high conciseness in choline which helps people that do sedentary work suffer from constipation.
Honey has antimicrobial acting against the growth of bacteria and other pathogenic micro organisms. Also useful for the healing, cleaning and disinfection of wounds.
Types of honey
There are two main honey categories. The flower honey, that is produced by the nectar of the flowers and the honey that is produced by the juices of pine, fir and other plants of the woods. The flower honey according to same other special features is named after the plant from which it comes from.
So we have the varieties of Thyme Honey, Orange Tree Honey, Sunflower Honey, Briar Honey, Chestnut Honey, Cotton Honey, Polikombos Honey etc. The same thing happens with the honey produced by wood plants with main varieties of Pine Honey and Fri Honey.
Every variety has certain particularities that distinguish it from the others:
Thyme Honey: strongly aromatic, extremely pleasant in taste with clear shiny light-colored look, enlisted in the top quality honey varieties. Crystallizes in 6 to 18 months after its production.
Orange Tree Honey: with a wonderful aroma and an excellent taste. Crystallizes very soon, from one to two months after its production. It is very light-colored and turns white-like after its crystallization.
Pine Tree Honey: consists of the 65% of the total honey production in Greece. It isn’t particularly sweet, richer that flower honey in minerals and proteins and has low calories. It’s from the honey varieties that doesn’t crystallize.
Honey Crystallization and quality
Crystallization is a natural phenomenon that causes absolutely no change in the nutrition value and the biological substance of honey. It is related to the phytogenic orientation of honey and is affected by its chemical composition. The factors that are important in the honey’s crystallization are the concentration of the amounts in glucose and water, the analogy of fructose and glucose, the mixture’s content in pollen grain and the presence of the sacchar of melitose etc.
A crystallized amount of honey is neither expired nor adulterated. The crystallized honey can be easily fluidized in a ben mari without missing any of the biological or nutritional quality.
The color of honey
The color of honey is a characteristic of its orientation. The dark-colored honey is rich in micronutrients (potassium, magnesium, phosphor, iron, sodium etc) and has greater nutrition value. The light-colored honey has better aroma and taste.
Honey and Adulteration
Honey is one of the very little foods that can’t be adulterated. It mixed difficult with water, glucose or other sweetening substances. Occasions of adulteration in the Greek honey are very rare.
Greek and not foreign
Greek honey is by quality the best in comparison to the imported for the following reasons:
1. imported honey is more water-like, that is has higher lever of humidity. The higher the humidity level is, the more likely it is for the honey to turn sour.
2. the imported honey is sold at a very low price (200 – 300 drc per kilo) when imported but in a very high price when resold (1000 to 1500 drc per kilo), and as a result some over speculate against the Greek consumer.
3. honey’s production technology isn’t particularly developed in Greece and as a result honey has the minimum elaboration and standardization. On the contrary, imported honey is a formalized product of maximum elaboration (overheated, mixed to prevent crystallization, color changed etc).
4. the taste of Greek honey is superior to that of the imported.
The glass package is preferred because glass is a neutral material and doesn’t react to honey so it doesn’t alternates the quality. Additionally, the consumer can judge the color, fluidity, clarity and crystallization.
The tin package helps in preserving the biological quality of honey as it doesn’t affect significantly the bacteriostatic act of it.
Plastic vases that don’t record the indication “for food use” are inappropriate and must be avoided.
Crete cuisine & Cretan Recipes
So don’t miss, during your stay in Crete, to taste all the island’s traditional recipes. Appetizers and dishes like rusks, honey and cheese, pies from Sfakia, grass pies, cream cheese, boiled snails, staka, stuffed vine leaves, rabbit casserole, patty, Sfakian casserole and many more are tastes you will remember for ever.
Restaurants and taverns in Crete
In Crete are many restaurants and taverns that offer traditional recipes, using only pure, natural local ingredients. There are also traditional stores, from where you can buy authentic products of the Cretan earth.
Quality of olive-oil in Crete
The special geo-climatic conditions of Crete and, in particular, the sun-drenched days of summer and autumn, along with the proper application of local research, not to mention the love of the Cretans for the olive tree and its oil, have all culminated in a spectacular improvement in the level of quality!
Today, over 95% of the olive oil produced in Crete belongs to the highest category of quality labeled as “Extra Virgin”.
Factors favouring quality
Olive oil as it is produced on Crete today has excellent quality characteristics. Its acidity is extremely low and its organoleptic characteristics (flavour, aroma) are excellent. Thus a quite large percentage of Cretan olive oil in the order of 85-95%, depending on annual conditions, is placed in the highest quality category of EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (Fig. 1). The corresponding figures for olive oils from other olive oil producing countries is today considerably lower.
Its excellent organoleptic characteristics, in other words the unparalleled flavour and exceptional aroma of Cretan olive oil, is certainly due to the high levels of sunshine and the dry climate which prevails in most areas of the island, particularly during the autumn and winter period when the oil is formed in the fruit.
Nonetheless, achievement of the top quality of Cretan olive oil is also contributed to and assisted by the diligent cultivation of producers and effective combating of the olive fly in conjunction with proper and rapid harvesting.
Shortening the period of time between harvesting and pressing and the high conditions of cleanliness of the olive fruit from the olive plantation to the olive press are also considered to be important technical factors which contribute decisively to improving quality.
Shortening the time from harvesting to pressing, which over recent years has reached just 1-2 days, is a Greek success which is due, in addition to mechanizing of harvesting using small olive collection devices, too to the large number of modern high capacity olive presses which exist on Crete which manage to process almost all olives received each day.