Sometimes called by its scientific name Pistacia lentiscus, the mastic plant originated in the Mediterranean nations in the south of Europe, northern portions of Africa, and the Middle East. Mastic gum is a resin derived from the mastic plant that has a beige colouring with a pearly to dull sheen. The gum has a variety of uses in cooking, art, and alternative medicine.
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Mastic gum varish is a type of finish applied over painted surfaces. The product comes in liquid form with a glossy appearance, explains Blick Art Materials. Art restorations experts may apply mastic gum varnish after cleaning a painting, since it gives the artwork an appearance similar to the effects oil paints had during the 16th to 18th centuries. Over the years, mastic gum may discolour or lose its sheen, but it is easily removed, which also makes the varnish a fine choice for art restoration.
Mastic gum is also used in many Mediterranean culinary traditions, according to the book "Seasoning Savvy" by Alice Arndt. As an ingredient in Greek cooking, mastic gum is a spice for baked goods like Easter bread and Vasilopita, and as a base for the alcohol mastikha. In Saudi Arabia, mastic gum finds use as a seasoning in meat-based dishes like soups and stews. For cooking, mastic gum requires boiling in hot water or another liquid, because the hardened resin will not dissolve in cold water.
Mastic gum is also used in a variety of oral hygiene products, reports the Chios Mastic Gum Growers Association. Chewing the gum stimulates saliva production, which disinfects the mouth and freshens breath. Because of its benefits at preventing tooth decay, mastic gum is an ingredient in some toothpastes and mouthwashes. Some dentists mix mastic gum with dental fillings or recommend chewing the resin to strengthen jaw bones.
A 2009 study at the Department of Gastroenterology in Chios General Hospital in Chios, Greece and published in Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, found that patients who consumed 350 mg of mastic gum three times per day for 14 days had more reductions in a type of bacteria known as heliobacter pylori than patients treated with traditional antibiotic medicine. Because the heliobacter pylori bacteria is known to contribute to peptic ulceration, many natural medicine practitioners believe that mastic gum is effective for treating stomach ulcers and gastro-oseophageal reflux disease. The University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that while this study is encouraging, further research is necessary to prove the medicinal benefits of mastic gum.
Mastic gum also has other uses, including the production of perfumes, cosmetics, ceiling wax, tanning agents, and camphor, explains the Chios Mastic Gum Growers Association. Mastic gum is also used as a finish for musical instruments and as a dye for colouring fabrics, particularly silk.
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