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Ask a Foodie: What Is the ‘Secret’ Ingredient in Turkish Delight?

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Q. I read that something called mastic is used in the candy, Turkish Delight. What is mastic exactly? And is it used as anything other than a food product?  — D.M.

Check out recipe here for Turkish Delight. It uses gelatin and cornstarch rather than the more exotic mastic.

Turkish Delight 2 cropped better

Turkish Delight is a candy that uses mastic as a binding ingredient.

A. You possibly came across Turkish Delight in an import store and gave it a try, or if you are lucky, a friend brought some to you from a trip to Greece or Turkey.

Mastic, one of the candy’s ingredients,  is a powerful binder that holds together foods such as pomegranate seeds and pistachios and gives the treat its very chewy texture. Turkish Delight not only tastes good, its texture, almost like chewing gum, is a nice contrast to the freshness and crunchiness of the nuts and fruit. In Greek, the candy’s name ‘loukoumi.’

Mastic is an interesting ingredient. It is a natural gum that comes from a tree related to the pistachio that grows only on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea, says Aliza Green in her compact but precise “Field Guide to Herbs & Spices,” (Quirk Publications, $15.95). The following information is also taken from Green’s guide.

This ancient tree yields clear resin that hardens into brittle, crystalline pieces referred to as “tears.” In fact, the German word for the substance translates as “tears of God.” The mastic is processed so that it becomes a food item that contributes a little to flavor, but is important for its smooth texture and use as a binding agent.

Wikipedia mentions that gum arabic, another binder-type product with many uses, should not be confused with mastic — they are two different substances — although to make things just a little more confusing, mastic from the Greek evergreen tree is sometimes called arabic gum.

Turkish Delight is a chewy candy that contains fruit, nuts and a sweet binder made of mastic.

Turkish Delight is a chewy candy that contains fruit, nuts and a sweet binder made of mastic.

As for the non-food uses of mastic, Wikipedia offers these: Mastic is used in some varnishes. Mastic varnish was used to protect and preserve photographic negatives. Mastic is also used in perfumes, cosmetics, soap, body oils, and body lotion. In ancient Egypt, mastic was used in embalming. In its hardened form, mastic can be used, like frankincense, or Boswellia resin, to produce incense.

Another bit of interest, from Wiki for word people: The word mastic is derived from the Greek verb, μαστιχειν “to gnash the teeth,” which is the source of the English word masticate.

We were also interested to find that Turkish Delight is the name of an X-rated movie. And, it makes an appearance in “Narnia – the Musical’ which is based on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In this song, called “Turkish Delight,” the White Witch tempts Edmund with the candy’s tasty charms.

“There’s a tantalizing candy no one can resist!
All it takes is just a single bite!
When you try this choice confection
Suddenly your tongue will do a genuflection!
Turkish, Turkish Delight!”


Photographs by Bonnie Walker


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