Greece, a land of history and myths, home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe, as well as a birthplace of Western civilization, is still mysterious in all its aesthetic glory. Picturesque villages, white walls with blue details, sandy beaches, and a horizon with nothing but the sea, sky, and the sun put Greece on the list of the favorite vacation destinations in the world.
But in this post, we won’t talk about all the historical facts, years, statues, and monuments. Our focus goes on Greek food and its impact on the traditional Mediterranean cuisine that we know today. So, let’s break down the mythology and connect such an impressive history with the Mediterranean diet, ingredients, herbs, spices, and recipes that we can’t imagine not indulging in while traveling the Mediterranean. Greece, seduce us (as if you haven’t already)!
Greece Equals Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet that we know today is a mix of traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy, and other countries that are located on the coastline of the Mediterranean sea. What’s interesting is that since November 2010, such a diet has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece, along with Spain, Italy, and Morocco.
However, many studies showed that ancient Greek doctors invented the renowned Mediterranean diet as Hippocratic physicians prescribed healthy diets for the treatments of their patients. They started using rich flavors in food in order to improve the food’s nutritional potency while food recipes containing onion and garlic were often given to the patients.
Due to that, we can say that the work of ancient Greek doctors really laid the principles of modern Mediterranean cooking which is often referred to as the Greek or Cretan diet. This cuisine also equals a certain lifestyle where food isn’t only inherently healthful, but also a social occasion for family gatherings. Plus, the two key factors of this cuisine are – little stress and much joy in eating and indulging. Now, that is a lifestyle everyone could enjoy!
Cuisine Of Eternal Youth & Beauty
With an incredible offer of rich and diverse food and beverages, Greek cuisine is the result of the culmination of thousands of years of living, cooking, and eating. The main ingredients of Greek cuisine are wheat, olive oil, and wine. These ingredients are known as the Mediterranean triad.
As Greece is a nation of small farmers, the country produces organic foods such as cheeses, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, vegetables, and oils. And these are the ingredients that form the basis of the traditional Greek regimen. Besides that, Greece’s climate is perfect for spices, garlic, and other herbs like basil, mint, thyme, and oregano. Of course, fish and seafood are a common part of the Greek diet, as well as lamb and goat which are traditional meats for festivals and holidays.
Throughout the years of history, the Greek influence spread to ancient Rome and then through Europe and beyond. With a 4,000-year-old culinary tradition, the excitement of preparing and cooking food is what keeps that tradition nurtured. Greek food is simple but described as a journey into the cradle of civilization and the land of the Gods of Olympus.
Greek Foods That Define Mediterranean
In the terms of specific foods that come from Greece and define not only the Mediterranean diet but also the Mediterranean region, there are a couple of staple ingredients that certainly define this specific but rather delicious cuisine. Even though each country uses the following ingredients in different ways, there is no doubt about how much have Greek food impacted the Mediterranean diet.
Greek olive oil is rich and aromatic, and it is made from green olives only. Ancient Greeks used olive oil as a part of their efforts to nurture a healthy life, as well as to promote longevity. Then, Homer called olive oil a liquid gold, while today, Greek olive oil has one of the highest quality worldwide. From the early years, olive oil wasn’t only considered to be a basic food, but also a symbol of good health, strength, and actual medicine. In Greece, the cultivation of olive trees began in Crete, 3,500 years ago.
Through the ages, olive oil has become synonymous with Greece. It is an integral part of many Greek dishes, as well as one of the key factors of Mediterranean cuisine.
In ancient Greece, the earliest records of cheesemaking can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. Feta cheese is associated with Crete too. The name feta literally means slice and it is referred to the practice of slicing up cheese so it can be stored in containers or cut into thin slices for serving. This product has established itself as a big part of the Greek diet and it is associated with the Greek traditional way of life.
Today, feta is widely exported and is used in Mediterranean restaurants and households for the preparation of many recipes and dishes that are based on the usage of fresh and light ingredients.
Straggisto Or – Greek Yogurt
Traditional Greek yogurt is made of pure sheep’s milk that is strained in a muslin cloth bag in order to remove the whey. Thanks to that, the yogurt is thicker and has a creamier consistency. Now, what is interesting is that Greek yogurt isn’t known in Greece by that name. There, it is actually called straggisto. That is a strained yogurt and it is the key ingredient for many Greek staple dishes such as tzatziki dip.
Since 800 BC, yogurt has been a well-known food in the Greek and Roman empire. Ancient Greeks consumed oxygala too. That is a distant ancestor of yogurt made with sour milk and sweetened with honey. Yogurt appeared in many ancient texts and today, we can’t really imagine living without it. Even though this ingredient was probably used everywhere in the world, not only in Greece, the local product is the main ingredient in many traditional Greek recipes, as well as in Mediterranean dishes.
Honey is an essential ingredient in Greek cuisine and it is often referred to as the nectar of the Gods. Greece has 7,500 different flora honey spices and 850 of them are exclusive to the country. The usage of honey as medicinal therapy and sweetener has been around since ancient times. What makes Greek honey unique is the fact that is it nutritional, and filled with antioxidants and vitamins.
Honey, as an essential ingredient in Greek cuisine, is used in many different dishes and recipes, and it offers sweetness and aroma to main dishes, desserts, and beverages. Greece has a historic beekeeping tradition and Greek honey is often referred to as the best one in the world. No wonder it became an important part of the Mediterranean diet!
This ingredient was an important part of the basic diet of the ancient Greeks. Along with olive and vine, figs were a symbol of peace and prosperity. The mythology says that the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, created the fig tree. Figs have been an integral part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Traditionally, they are served as dried fruit, with no added sugar.
The same as with honey, Greek figs are considered to be one of the world’s best superfoods and they are an essential part of the Mediterranean cuisine. They were so valuable that at one point, it was illegal to export them outside Greece! Today, Greece is one of the largest producers of figs so people can enjoy them worldwide and prepare them in many dishes or as a simple snack.
The use of salt can be traced back to ancient times in Greece. By the 5th Century B.C., salt was regularly being used to preserve whole fish. And that practice is still being used. Once salted, the fish is usually rinsed with water and then marinated with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. Today, for example, people love to consume salted fish as it is, without additional preparation.
Codfish and anchovies are the most common types of fish consumed this way. Even though in Ancient Greece, salt was considered to be a luxury item, today, salting whole fish is a fairly widespread practice. Salted cod and anchovies have become an integral part of Greek food, as well as the traditional cuisine of the Mediterranean region.
When Mythology Meets The Mediterranean
What makes Greece such a special and unique destination are myths and legends. And those two are often intertwined with Greek cuisine too. Here are a couple of food-related stories based on the Greek mystery that is hidden behind the Greek and Mediterranean cuisines that we know today. Do Greek gods really have something to do with the magic of true enjoyment of the food and cooking? Well, why not?
Ambrosia: Food Of The Gods
In the ancient Greek myths, the Olympian gods needed to consume food as a defining feature of mortal frailty. Ambrosia was the food or drink of the Greek gods. It was brought to gods in Olympus by doves and served by Hebe or Ganymede at the heavenly feast. Ambrosia was the magical fruit and without it, the gods would become weak. What is more interesting is the fact that whoever consumed ambrosia no longer had blood in their veins, but another substance called ichor.
Almighty Goat Milk
The island of Crete is considered to be the birthplace of Zeus. He was raised with the help of the naval and forest nymphs. They fed him with ambrosia and nectar, while the milk was given to him by a friendly goat called Amalthea. Due to the combination of those foods, Zeus became a young, powerful man, and afterward, he climbed to Olympus and took over the throne of the universe.
The Supreme Olive Oil
The olive tree is a symbol of peace. In ancient times, Poseidon wanted to be a ruler of Athens, whose patron was Athena. He proposed a duel and the wise goddess made a peaceful bid – the one who makes the citizens of Athens the most useful gift will win. Poseidon decided to give people a horse, a creature that humans didn’t know about yet. On the other hand, Athena stubbed her spear into the ground and a silver-leaved tree grew up at that place. The congregation of Gods needed to decide on the winner and Athena won. Since then, the olive has been a symbol of peace, while olive oil is one of the most important ingredients in Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean.
Aphrodisiacs Of Ancient Greece
The name aphrodisiac has its roots in Ancient Greece and it comes from the name of the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. According to the legends, 10 Greek aphrodisiacs are saffron, artichokes, lentils, beans, truffles and mushrooms, onions, garlic, bay leaves, mint, and satyrion. In ancient times, the Aphrodisia festival was celebrated on the island of Cyprus every spring. The festival lasted three days. These love herbs are the ingredients that are used in Greece today and on a daily basis. They are also used in the Mediterranean diet all over the Mediterranean region.
Source For The Story:
- Greek Reporter
- Greek Mythology
- Greek Goes Keto
- Greeker than the Greeks
- Greek Flavours
To Wrap It Up
Greek civilization is, without a doubt, one of the most important civilizations in the world. Throughout many centuries, Greeks brought knowledge, mythology, and influence to many other worlds and countries. The impact they had and still have on the Mediterranean and its cuisine is important and unquestionable. The usage of different ingredients, herbs, and spices are key factors in creating fresh, light, and healthy dishes that are rich in flavors. And that is the best definition of the Mediterranean diet.