Cretan Products


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Cretan ideograms linear A &B olive tree_olive_olive oil
 

The three images above are ideograms depicting the olive tree (left), its crop (centre) and olive oil (right). These ideograms were found in Linear A and B tablets and are proof that the Minoans used olive oil and olives as part of their diet as far back as 1800 BC.

Click on the tabs below to read about the olive tree in Greek mythology, the origins of the olive tree, the olive tree in Cretan and Greek history, olive oil categories and Cretan olive oil: The best olive oil in the world - Nutritional value, Quality and Consumption.


The olive tree in Greek mythology

According to Greek mythology, the daughter of Zeus, Athena, Goddess of Wisdom who was born on the shores of river Triton in Crete, planted the first olive tree on the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis therefore offering it to humanity as a symbol of peace, wisdom and prosperity. By doing so, she won the contest against God Poseidon and had the most powerful ancient Greek city named "Athena" (Athens) in her honour. At the same time she also became the protector of the city.


The origins of the olive tree

The olive tree was believed to have first made its appearance in the third millenium BC in the Middle East and consequently spread throughout the Aegean Islands, Greece and other Mediterranean regions. However, new fossil findings of olive tree leaves (Olea Europea) dating back 50 to 60 thousand years were discovered by Professor E. Velitzelos along strata of the volcanic crater in Santorini (Thera). Later, on the island of Nisyros, more such findings proved its indigenous existence in the greater region of the Aegean thousands of years ago.

It is thought that the first inhabitants of Crete, aside from other crops, occasionally collected and ate the fruit of the wild olive tree (Olea oleaster), from as far back as the Neolithic Period (6000-3000 BC).


The olive tree in Cretan and Greek history


In ancient Cretan history, many archaeological finds, including the ideograms mentioned above and a bowl of olives (1450 BC) found in a well in the palace of Zakros, Eastern Crete, bear testimony to the dominant position of olives and olive oil in Minoan Crete and their heavy use in everyday life. Wall-paintings, tools, storage devices, installations and inscriptions serve as proof of the importance placed by the Minoans on the production, storage and merchandising of olive oil. Aside from the very important position that olives and olive oil had on the Minoan Cretan table, Olive oil also had many other uses including as a cosmetic (fragranced or not), a body ointment, a therapeutic substance, a lubricant, fuel for lamps and it was also used during religious ceremonies.

In later centuries, between 700 - 400 B.C, the olive and olive-oil acquired a special importance all over Greece. Philosophers Anaxagoras and Empedocles investigated the history of the olive tree, Aristotle described its cultivation, Solon legislated its protection and Plato taught in its shade. As a matter of fact, the olive tree was so important that the Olympic Games winners were crowned with a wreath made of olive tree branches. In the Athens 2004 games, in addition to their medals, the winners also got olive branches to wear on their heads. It is important to note that the emblem of the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, was an olive branch wreath and that the olive leaf was the inspiration for the design of the Olympic torch.


Olive oil categories

The grades (or types) of olive oil developed by the International Olive Oil Council are:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. The A+ of oils. This is the oil that results from the first pressing of olives. To qualify as extra virgin, the oil must be cold pressed, with no chemicals or hot water added during the process. Also, acidity levels must be lower than one percent (< 0.8%), and the oil must have an excellent flavour and aroma.
  • Virgin Olive Oil. This oil is the product of the first pressing, but the fruit can be of slightly lower quality.
  • Pure Olive Oil. The most common oil used, it is chemically refined to strip away undesirable taste and aroma. It is usually a combination of virgin olive oil mixed with refined olive oil.

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil Quality Categories


Cretan olive oil: The best olive oil in the world - Nutritional value

In the end of the 1950's, when American nutrition experts came to Crete to investigate the causes that were responsible for the longevity of Cretans, they could not believe their eyes! "My God, how much oil do you use?!!" exclaimed Dr. Ancel Keys, as he was looking at a plate of green salad virtually floating in olive oil. In fact, Dr. Keys' observation was similar to observations made centuries earlier by travellers from other regions of the world, who were also interested in scrutinizing the daily life and habits of Cretans.

Today it is believed that the secret for a long and healthy life lies in olive oil, the principal ingredient of Cretan diet. Past and present research conducted in the USA and Europe supports the view that olive oil not only shields the human heart from diseases, but also increases the good operation of other organs and protects the human organism from a long list of diseases. For one thing, it reduces cholesterol 3; it has excellent antioxidant properties and wards off many forms of cancer; in addition, it supports the operation of liver and is ideal for those people suffering from diabetes and other diseases.


Cretan olive oil: The best olive oil in the world - Quality

The quality of Cretan extra virgin olive oil enjoys a world-wide reputation and recognition by international organizations, leading scientists and specialist tasters. It has won numerous prestigious, official international awards in contests and tastings throughout the world. Aside from the awards, in practical terms, Cretan olive oil quality is demonstrated by the demand for it from all major international markets and in particular the Italian market which absorbs the great majority of the Cretan olive oil production in order supplement their own.

The reason behind this recognition is that it’s not an industrial but a natural product produced solely by crushing the olive fruit and therefore it does not contain any preservatives or chemical additives. 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. Moreover, the olive trees are cultivated with love, care and respect for tradition. Proper and rapid harvesting along with the shortening of the time period between harvesting and pressing (it has reached just 1-2 days) and the high conditions of cleanliness of the olive fruit from the olive plantation to the olive press are also considered to be important factors which contribute decisively to the extremely high quality.

The result is that quite a large percentage (approximately 95%) of Cretan olive oil is of the highest quality and is labelled as "Extra Virgin" while the corresponding figures from other olive oil producing countries are considerably lower.
 
extra virgin olive oil percentage of cretan production


Cretan olive oil: The best olive oil in the world - Consumption

When it comes to olive oil consumption, Greeks, and in particular Cretans, having ascertained the numerous beneficial properties of oil, have traditionally consumed large quantities. At 20kg/person per year, national average consumption is the highest in the world. In Crete, at 25kg/person, olive oil consumption is even higher. These indicators are considerably higher than corresponding ones from other countries, even olive oil producers.

chart showing the olive oil consumption by the Cretans

Click here and discover the many different uses of extra virgin olive oil in the "Cretan Recipes" section.

 

Click here to find tips on using and storing olive oil in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of Exta Virgin Cretan Olive Oils.


bowl of olives discovered in zakros, Crete in 1450 BC
Bowl of olives from 1450 BC discoved in Zakros, eastern Crete

*For information on the olive tree and its prominent role in Greek mythology and Cretan history please refer to our Extra Virgin Olive Oil section above.

In Crete, the olive tree has found the most ideal conditions for its development. It prefers the mild Mediterranean climate, loves moisture (but can survive in conditions of great dryness) and also loves the mild Mediterranean winter and greedily absorbs the strong Mediterranean light. Even though it grows best in fertile soils, it can also take root and bear fruit in the most barren, dry and rocky soils such as those of Crete.

Over the years the olive plantations of Crete have spread and today cover a large part of the island's total surface area. The island's agricultural land is approximately 3.6 Km2 and of this 65% is covered by olive plantations (23,500 hectares) with olive plantations today include a total of at least 35 million trees.

The dominant variety is the famous “Koroneiki” (or Ladolia or Psilolia) which accounts for 85% of all olive trees on the island. It produces small (that is why they are also referred to as elitses meaning small olives) yet abundant fruits almost every year and is considered to be one of the most productive varieties in the world. Despite their size, they are packed with oil and are the source of some of the world's best olive oil. While they are still green, small quantities are harvested and used as table olives. When they become black and ripe (during December, January, and sometimes February) they are harvested almost exclusively for the production of olive oil.

To a lesser extent there are also other varieties of taller but less productive tress and are cultivated in various areas of the island. These include the Tsounati in Hania, Throumbolia in Rethymnon and the Hondrolia in Heraklion.

Olives cannot be eaten right off of the tree; they require special processing to reduce their intrinsic bitterness, caused by the glycoside oleuropein, which is concentrated in their skin. These processing methods vary depending on the olive variety, the cultivation region, and the desired taste, texture and colour. Some olives are picked while green and unripe, while others are allowed to fully ripen on the tree to a black colour before being harvested.

Olives which can be 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. In 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 Koroneiki.

Olive Paste

In ancient Crete, olive paste was an everyday delicacy made either by using whole olives (mashing them) or from what was left from the olives after pressing (to produce olive oil).

The grinding of the olives, in other words cutting them into small pieces, which produces the well known olive paste, is an important phase of pressing. Up until a few years ago the fruit was crushed in olive mills using 3 or 4 stones of various diameters. In more recent years the crushing/grinding of the olives has been done using metal crushers which rotate the olives at great speed inside a pierced drum. During crushing, care has to be exercised in order for is the temperature of the paste not to increase greatly and also for the olives not to be excessively crushed because that may result in the olive oil acquiring a bitter taste.

Kneading of the paste is done in special rounded or long kneaders. It is important that their walls are made of stainless steel and that the temperature of the paste does not exceed 30ο C. Kneading should last around 30 - 45 minutes. Extracting the olive oil from the olive paste can be done using pressure (used from ancient times till recently) or centrifugally (the prevalent method used in Crete in 99% of the cases today).

The result of this process, aside from the exquisite olive oil is olive paste, a savoury, totally natural, healthy and delicious product which is flavoured with natural herbs and can be used as an appetiser, in salads and in various dishes and also as a spread on rusks or bread instead of butter.

Click here and discover the many different uses of olives in the "Cretan Recipes" section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of fine Cretan olives and olive paste.


Bee Jewellery from the Minoan period in Crete - Heraklion museum

Since the prehistoric years, Cretans have been familiar with honey-making and have included it in their diet. Cretan honey is a clear, light-coloured honey of exceptionally high quality with the highest viscosity in Greece.

The strong relationship between the Cretans and bees goes back a very long time. In Greek mythology, the bee (“Melissa”) was the daughter of Crete’s first king Melisseas. She nested inside the sacred cave, the birthplace of Zeus and became his nanny. In ancient times, the Cretans believed that their island produced the best honey because it was Melissa herself who taught them the art of beekeeping. She was entrusted by Zeus’s mother with his upbringing and accomplished her task by feeding him the golden treasure of Crete.

The historical relation of the Cretans, bees and honey becomes obvious when one sees one of the most important exhibits in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, a museum showcasing most secrets of the Minoan civilization. It is an exquisite gold piece of jewellery representing two bees (who some say are in love) flanking a round portion of honeycomb. Furthermore, an excavation in Phaistos (South Crete) brought to light clay pots with traces of honey, indicating that honey was an essential part of the diet of Ancient Cretans and the only known sweetening substance for many centuries.

Honey, this exceptionally natural sweetener of great nutritional value, contains precious substances (such as organic acids, proteins, enzymes, metallic salts, etc.) and can be consumed even by people suffering from diabetes! It is also rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. Vitamin E, the basic vitamin in honey, along with other substances, removes harmful substances from the body that either originate from the body itself or are the result of human activities, e.g. smoking, radiation, and consumption of processed food that is usually the cause of tumour growths. It strengthens the sense of smell, heals respiratory system related diseases, sooths the throat and relieves from coughs. Furthermore, it protects from eye diseases, it’s a diuretic due to its antiseptic properties (it restricts bacteria contained in the bladder) and so much more without any of the negative aspects of sugar. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, recommended honey as a cure for many diseases and Aristotle believed that life could be prolonged with the daily consumption of honey.

The honey of Crete is completely natural and is produced in regions of endemic vegetation. The bio-system of Crete is rich in endemic plants, particularly herbs like thyme (thyme honey has a special aroma and flavour and its production is quite developed in Crete), sage and oregano and also pine trees, acacias, eucalyptus and citrus fruits. This vegetation and herbs are the favourite source of food for bees. A tour of the bee-keeping areas of Crete is enough for visitors to understand why Crete produces the most aromatic honey in the world: the beehives are amidst a variegated landscape scented by aromatic bushes and herbs, most of them endemic to Crete. Since snow covers only the highest mountain peaks and due to the prolonged summer season, wild vegetation is always available to bees for foraging.

Crete has produced honey since prehistoric times and is continuing to do so without interruption, as if nothing had changed. Perhaps the structure of the beehive has improved, but all else has most likely remained unchanged: the bees, the aromatic herbs, and the environment. The processing of the Cretan honey takes place by natural methods, without using high temperatures that destroy the vitamins or corrupting it with other sweeteners.

Click here and discover the many different uses of pure Cretan honey in the "Cretan Recipes" section.

Click here to find tips on using and storing honey in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of Cretan honey and related products.

Bee Pollen

Pollen is the masculine fertilizing cell of plants and is collected from flowers. The bees enrich it with other ingredients and it therefore possesses properties it did not initially have. It is the protein-enriched food of bees who consume large quantities in order to produce royal jelly and the nutrition of their spawn.

Bee pollen contains all the known vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, essential proteins, amino acids, enzymes and coenzymes and hormones known to man and needed to sustain life.

It is rich in minerals and vitamins, including calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamins A, B6, C, D, E and K, and including 12 different unsaturated fatty acids. It also contains biotin, an important vitamin for the skin, hair and nails. Plus, it provides protein, essential oils, essential amino acids, flavonoids and carotenoids, which are important for the synthesis of vitamin A in the body. Because of its B vitamin complex, bee pollen is often taken for increasing energy, vitality, bolster immune function, and for detoxifying the body. Athletes often use bee pollen for endurance, strength, stamina, and mental clarity. There have also been some studies that show it may help in alleviating allergies.

Bee pollen has been used to combat stress, enhance the immune system, improve physical and mental performance and evidence suggests it may have anti-aging effects. It also restores appetite, and has been used for acne and for athlete's foot. Bee pollen also has been known to treat anaemia, general weakness, constipation and liver disorders. It can be taken as a fat loss supplement as it contains a substance called lecithin that flushes fat from the body and stimulates the metabolism to burn calories more quickly. There have been many reports, articles and books that have been written suggesting that the bee pollen benefits extend to being able to slow down the aging process and its ability to effectively lowering cholesterol levels.

In general, it helps the body to function well and therefore contributes to longevity.

Click here to go directly to our selection of Cretan bee pollen.



With over 130 species of wild flowers and herbs endemic to Crete, the island is full of unique aromatic plants. Well-known herbs such as dictamus (the king of endemic flora of Crete) and malotira are found in abundance and have been known for their priceless healing and nutritional qualities since antiquity and the Minoan era. For example, in antiquity, dictamus was known for its antiseptic properties and was considered a form of panacea (cure-all natural medicine). Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended it to pregnant women for speeding-up delivery and making it as painless as possible.

Today, herbalists claim that handpicked, naturally dried Cretan herbs can help to successfully treat a number of common health problems, such as the common cold, indigestion, headaches, malaise, etc., thus avoiding taking medicine that can have unpleasant or annoying side-effects. Among the diseases and ailments normally treated by specialists using herbs are allergies, arthritis, infections, circulatory problems, liver diseases, gynaecological problems (relating to menstrual cycle), skin diseases, stress related problems (headaches, insomnia, palpitation), etc.

The flora of Crete is at its best in Spring, when following the early rains, the island turns green with hundreds of flowers, plants and herbs starting to blossom. Many of these Cretan herbs (among them dictamus) grow on steep mountain slopes on the island and are usually gathered by experienced locals, dried under natural conditions and then packaged in modern packaging facilities without any form of chemical processing making sure that they retain their aroma and other amazing qualities including their antioxidising properties when consumed. A large variety of these herbs are used for tea preparations, condiments, and also for cooking and pastries.

Herbs found on the island

A very wide variety of aromatic herbs is found on the island, many of them endemic to Crete. Varieties include dictamus, oregano, basil, malotira (infusion), tilia (infusion), marjoram, thyme, mint, rosemary, chamomile (infusion), sage, louiza, arismpari, bay leaf, eucalyptus, lavender, thrympa (infusion), fliskouni (infusion), kalentoula (infusion), elichrysos (infusion), antonaida (infusion) and many more.

Click here and discover the many different uses of natural Cretan herbs and spices in the "Cretan Recipes" section.

Click here to see infromation on Cretan herbs properties and uses in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of Cretan herbs, teas and spices.



The vineyard is one of the most ancient plants known to and cultivated by man. The beneficial qualities and value (as food, as a remedy and as a tonic) of the grape, wine and raisins are undeniable.  

History has recorded first the Greeks followed by the Romans as the most skillful vineyard growers and wine producers.  Ancient Greek writers (Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle among others) often referred to raisins produced in Greece known during those times as “astafides” or “stafilides” or “stafides” (the word used today in Greece for raisins). 
 
Raisins can be eaten raw or used in cooking/baking and are amongst the foods that support daily wellbeing effectively improving the quality of life long-term.  It is worth mentioning that Cretan soultanina type raisins will become P.D.O (Protected Designation of Origin) products.

Raisins are a great source of immediate energy due to their high sugar content (mostly in the form of fructose). They contain vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C, minerals iron, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. In addition, a lot of silicon (not to be confused with the synthetic polymer silicone), sodium, potassium, zinc and copper.  Studies have shown that they add significant nutritional value to a healthy, balanced diet and are rich in fibers.  They are at the top of the list of antioxidant foods which have a positive effect on heart disease by stimulating the body to use its own cholesterol while at the same time contributing to the reduction of the risk of rectal cancer. Also, it is thought that raisins can help regulate blood pressure as well as cholesterol, they can assist the digestive function and to reduce constipation and hemorrhoids. Raisins contain substances that fight tooth decay and gum disease by suppressing their growth and also prevent the creation of dental plaque.

Click here to go directly to our section with Soultana Raisins from Crete
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Traditional Greek preserves (spoon sweets) are healthy confections (containing no preservatives or artificial additives), appealing to the eye, distinctive, and extremely versatile. Offering them to guests is a wonderful tradition and a sign of “philoxenia” (hospitality).

Some historical background

The ancient Greeks made sweets by combining nuts (especially almonds and walnut kernels) and fruits with honey and petimezi (a molasses-like syrup obtained by boiling down fresh must from crushed grapes to a syrupy consistency). Athinaios, a Greek writer of the Roman era, informs us of two extremely complicated and tasty sweets made in ancient Crete with petimezi and honey, nuts, sesame and poppy seeds. In Greece, whole fruits and some vegetables preserved in syrup (what we call preserves) are referred to as spoon sweets (“glyka koutaliou” in Greek: “glyka” is Greek for “sweet” and is where English words like “glucose” or “glucerine” come from and “koutali” is “spoon”). This category of spoon sweets originates in the Byzantine era and got their name because of their usual serving size, a well-filled teaspoon. During the Ottoman occupation, sugar was more readily available and syrupy preserves using fruits, rinds, nuts and vegetables were spread throughout Greece as they were favoured by the Turkish governors (the pashas) becoming an integral part of the Greek culinary tradition. Throughout Greece, it is customary that these sweets are offered to newly arrived guests as a symbol of hospitality (legend has it that when the custom first began, everyone took their sweet from the same bowl in order to assure that it was not poisoned and safe for all to eat).

Today

Today, whole fruit preserves can be found in almost every Greek home. They are made by slowly boiling fruit (almost any fruit can be used, though sour and bitter fruits are preferred) in water and sugar over several hours (or even days) until the syrup sets. They are made with simple, natural ingredients and for their making the fruits, nuts, and vegetables are harvested while still firm (often slightly under-ripe). A spoon sweet is considered to be good if it retains the fruit’s original shape, colour, aroma and taste therefore a small quantity of lemon juice is often added to preserve the fruit's original colour, as the citric acid prevents oxidation. In addition, small quantities of slivered or whole blanched almonds may also be added for crunch (especially to apple or grape preserve) plus a variety of other ingredients such as a quill of cinnamon bark or a mint bouquet etc., which can be added during the boiling, and then removed. In terms of texture, they are not as dense as jam or jelly with the fruit remaining firm in a nice pool of syrup thick enough to coat a spoon

The method of preparation is essentially similar to that of marmalade, except that fruit pieces remain whole.

When it comes to serving, spoon sweets in Greece are usually offered to guests served by the teaspoon (like it all started) in small china or crystal dishes or bowls and accompany coffee or tea along with cold water. However, they are excellent as ice cream toppings, fresh fruit toppings, in baked goods such as cakes and cookies, mixed with yogurt, on top of any cream dessert (excellent for cheesecake), with many cheeses (such as feta or manouri) or as a spread over toast or Cretan rusks.

Cretan spoon sweets

To make perfect preserves, all one needs is a wealth of great, healthy raw ingredients and natural sweeteners. Greece, and especially Crete, is blessed with both. Crete with its rich selection of fruits, nuts and of course honey has a very long tradition in handmade, natural preserves, jams and marmalades of the highest quality. The Cretan spoon sweets are usually made by small family businesses, women’s cooperatives and even monasteries and convents throughout the island, according to old, traditional recipes. They are 100% natural containing no preservatives or gelatine with the fruits retaining their original colour and taste. The Cretan variety of spoon sweets is endless and so are the special flavours. For example, a very popular preserve in Crete is Baby Eggplant. This is made with very small eggplants which are scored with a sharp knife, and slightly cooked. They are then drained and dried, and a blanched almond is inserted deeply into the pulp. The syrup is made using three parts sugar to one part water, cloves, a cinnamon stick, and lemon juice. The process takes several days of cooking and cooling and the results are amazing. Another very unique Cretan spoon sweet is made from grated potatoes and flavoured with vanilla.

Click here to read what the differences are between preserves, jams, jellies and marmalade in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of handmade, natural Cretan preserves and jams.


The history of pasta goes way back. According to a popular myth/legend, pasta was invented by the Greek God of fire, Hephaestus. However, there is no doubt that both the ancient Greeks and the Romans knew about pasta.

The first known reference of pasta dates back to 1000 BC in ancient Greece with "laganon", a noodle-shaped dough made with flour (from durum wheat) and water and consumed by the ancient Greeks. It was not boiled but rather roasted on fire or baked it in the oven. When the first Greek settlers migrated to Italy during the 8th century BC they took the "laganon" with them, which was renamed "laganum" (a word possibly associated with today’s lasagne). Of course, pasta also existed in Arab countries and China but it’s not known if it existed before 100 BC.

Pasta was very successful in Italy and during the15th century, its commercial manufacture begun, with Naples (due to its ideal climate) being the starting point. Around the end of the 19th century AD, pasta production started to become automated, spreading throughout Italy and then throughout the world.

Pasta is made by mixing semolina (a derivative of durum wheat) and water until it becomes paste, and should not have any preservatives or colours added. The quality of the durum wheat is paramount as is the whole manufacture process and the recipes used to make the different types of pasta.

The conditions and raw materials in Greece along with the existing traditional recipes found in the Greek countryside make it ideal for the production of pasta. Greek pasta is of superb quality and proof of that is the fact that Italian pasta conglomerate Barilla has invested in Greece by purchasing the biggest Greek pasta producer Misko. However, putting aside the big manufacturers, the secret of pasta in Greece lies in the tens of different types of traditional pasta available throughout the country and made by small producers, cooperatives, monasteries and convents. Almost each area and village produces its own, quality, natural specialities using recipes passed down from generation to generation with most of them being quite unique to one area while others being available in many Greek territories but with bigger or smaller differences in the recipes, manufacturing process and consuming habits.

And as with most other things were tradition, climate, geography and the people make the difference, Crete makes very good pasta with a lot of personal care and using only the finest natural ingredients such as Cretan olive oil, fresh eggs, pure sea salt, etc. along with flour made from high-quality durum wheat (using low temperatures) cultivated under strictly controlled conditions.

Click here and discover the many recipes containing Cretan pasta in our "Cretan Recipes" section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of Cretan pasta and here for our Organic section.


 

Cretan Rusks: Protected Geographical Indication status

Cretan rusks (known as “paximadi”) are unique in the world and are therefore designated as a P.G.I product (Protected Geographical Indication: In 1993 EU legislation came into effect which provides a system for the protection of food names on a geographical or traditional recipe basis (similar to the 'Appellation Controllee' system for wines). For a product to obtain a Protected Geographical Indication status, it must be produced, processed or prepared in that particular geographical area. The product must be of a specific quality, reputation or have other characteristics attributed to that area solely and considerably different to similar products. Holders of a Protected Geographical Indication are obliged to demonstrate long-term commitment to the maintenance of standards and the marketing of the product. Essentially, P.G.I allows the consumer to have total confidence in the quality, conformity and origin of each and every bottle of olive oil.).

They are very tasty and crunchy and are an important part of a healthy and nutritious meal. The paximadi is used at breakfast, dinner and lunchtime accompanying, for example, a cheese platter (or try a “dakos”, the prefect light meal, made by pouring a moderate amount of pure olive oil on each rusk, grounding fresh tomato over it with the juice soaking in and softening it and adding on top feta cheese along with your favourite herb trimmings, see our Cretan Recipes section for more). It is also the perfect treat with afternoon tea or coffee (especially the sweet rusks) and a healthy snack throughout the day as it is butter-free and contains no chemical additives or preservatives.

What distinguishes the Cretan rusk is its high nutritional value since it is made completely from natural ingredients (several cereals, mainly barley and wheat and a mix of those two). According to Ancel Keys and his famous seven country study, the Cretans are the healthiest people in the world. Ancel Keys (whose findings have been verified many more times in subsequent studies) concluded that their good health is due to their diet. The rusk is part of their everyday life; it is rich in natural fiber and vitamins (B and E), helping the digestive system and contributing to lower cholesterol and weight control.

The Cretan rusk has been around since ancient times, some historians claim that it was even consumed during the Minoan era. During the Byzantine era, it became known that the “paximadi” was the invention of gastronome Paximos (however, this has never been verified). No matter what its origin is, as time went by, the rusk became a very important part of everyday life in Crete. In the beginning it was the choice of farmers, shepherds and sailors due to the fact that it lasted much longer than bread. It was then slowly established with the Cretan families who could not bake fresh bread on a daily basis and due to its big demand, during the 16th century, big bakeries on the island started manufacturing it in bigger quantities thus establishing the rusk as the first “mass-produced” food product. Today, the rusk is everywhere, it accompanies the meals of all Cretans, from humble farmers to the wealthiest families, it is found in small tavernas and in trendy, high-class restaurants. The “bread of the poor” as it was once known, has now become a sample of high gastronomy along with the remainder of the Cretan cuisine contributing though, in real terms to a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.

Today, Cretan rusks come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and flavors. Increasingly popular are the small bite size rusks and also the sweet ones (imagine something similar to biscotti, but better) made of different ingredients such as almonds, honey, cinnamon, raisins, wine, etc., all natural, made with pure olive oil and no butter. Try them instead of biscuits or scones.

Click here and discover recipes using authentic Cretan rusks in the "Cretan Recipes" section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of authentic sweet & savory Cretan rusks.



According to Greek mythology, wine was given to humanity as a gift by Dionysus, the god of pleasure, wine making, life and friendship. Dionysus' favourite companion was Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, king of Crete.

In Crete, wine making goes back at least 4000 years and was an occasion for feasting in ancient Crete with offerings to the Gods. In Vathipetro, in the village of Archanes, in a Minoan villa archaeologists discovered the ruins of a wine installation facility along with storage rooms full of clay jars for wine storage. At 3500 years old, this is the island’s oldest unearthed wine-press.

Wine making continued throughout the years and flourished especially during the Roman Empire. During that time, there were at least fifteen pottery workshops in the island, making clay jars meant for wine transportation. Remnants of these jars have been unearthed in various towns on the Mediterranean shores, proof that Cretans exported their wine, especially a sweet wine called “Protropos” which was exported to Italy.

Later, under Venetian occupation, wine was the main export product of the island. Vine cultivation was so popular that authorities took measures to limit it since the majority of the population was planting grapes and there was a real shortage danger for other foodstuffs. The old wine presses were called “galeagra” (used between the 13th and 15th century) and in the Alagni area, approximately 30 km south of Heraklion, the stone part of a galeagra was unearthed with its wooden screw saved intact (it was used as a door handle!). In late medieval Europe, in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, vino di Candia (Candia is the modern capital city of Heraklion) was very popular with “Malvasia”, a famous wine made from the “Liatiko” grape variety, being very highly rated and exported throughout Europe.

Wine is part of the culture in Crete and the Cretans are well aware of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption; In Crete, good wine accompanies every dinner and is not a solitary practice as it goes hand in hand with social events, good company and friendship.

Cretan wine production, grape varieties, categories and labels

Today, Cretan wine production averages approximately 60.000 tons/year and accounts for 15-20% of all wine produced in Greece. The modern wine industries of Crete have exploited the traditional grape varieties using knowledge accumulated over centuries of wine-making on the island and combining it with modern technology and marketing strategies. Qualified enologists experiment with succulent grape varieties to produce distinguished wines satisfying a wide range of pallets. The Cretan "appellation d'origine controlee" ("designation of origin") wines constitute an invaluable heritage of traditional selections absolutely harmonized with the climatic conditions of the island.

The prefectures of Heraklion, Lasithi and Chania are the major wine producers of the island with areas distinguished for their wine varieties including Archanes, Peza, Dafnes, Arkalohori, Siteia, Monofatsi, Kydonia and Kissamos. These areas are protected from the warm southern winds by the mountains which also provide water during the summer from the melting snow.

In the prefecture of Heraklion, in Archanes and Peza, the two red grape varieties cultivated are Kotsifali (characteristic aroma and taste) and Mandilari (deep ruby colour). These two varieties produce wines with a very distinctive colour and taste. The white grape variety cultivated in the area is the Vilana which produces a dry white wine with a distinctive aroma and fruity taste. In Dafnes and Arkalohori , the main variety of grapes cultivated is the red Liatiko. Generaly, the prefecture of Heraklion produces red (from the varieties Kotsifali, Mandilari, Liatiko, Ladikino, Sirah and Carignane) and rose (from the varieties Athiri, Thrapsathiri, Silvaner, Chauvignon and Vilana) wines.

Heraklion produces four “Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality” (OPAP) categories of the wines: Peza red (produced by mixing must of the varieties Kotsifali and Mandilari and aging it in oak barrels), Peza white (produced from grapes of the Vilana variety), Archanes red (produced by mixing must of the varieties Kotsifali and Mandilari) and Dafnes red dry or sweet (Produced by mixing must of the varieties Kotsifali and Mandilari)

In the prefecture of Lasithi, the grape variety almost exclusively cultivated is the Liatiko which is ideal for mountainous areas and produces high alcohol content wines. Other varieties cultivated are Kotsifali, Ladikino and the Carignane. These are used in the production of the local Lasithi wine which is red or rose.

Lasithi produces one “Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality” (OPAP) category wine, the Sitia red dry or sweet produed from the Liatiko variety.

In the prefecture of Chania, the main grape variety cultivated is the Romeiko producing red, rose and white wines , the main type of which is called Marouvas. The remaining varieties of grapes cultivated in the rest of Crete are also cultivated (in smaller quantities) in Chania.

Generally, the Cretan Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality - O.P.A.P. (read about Greek wine categories and labels further down) according to vine cultivation region, type and grape variety are the following:

Region

Type

Variety

Archanes

Red, Dry

Kotsifali, Mandilaria

Dafnes

Red, Dry

Red, Sweet

Liatiko

Liatiko

Peza

White, Dry

Red, Dry

Villana

Kotsifali, Mandilaria

Sitia

Red, Dry

Red, Sweet

Liatiko

Liatiko

The types and grape varieties of Cretan Vin de pays - Topikos Oenos (read about Greek wine categories and labels further down) are:

Type

Variety

White, Dry

Villana, Athiri, Thrapsathiri, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc

Rose, Dry

Liatiko, Kotsifali, Mandilaria, Romeiko, Ladikino,Syrah, Carignan, Grenache Rouge

Red, Dry

Kotsifali, Mandilaria, Liatiko


Greek wine categories
The European Community built on the French AOC structure and set up a concept of quality wine produced in a delimited region: VQPRD - Vin de Qualite Produit dans une Region Determinee. The Community states that only wines made in a named zone can be so labelled, and oblige member countries to control yield, grape varieties and the precise area within each denomination. Moreover, a second category is that of Table Wines.

The VQPRD wines are the O.P.A.P. (Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality) and the O.P.E. (Controlled Appellation of Origin). The former can be distinguished by a red tape (supplied by the state) placed on the bottle’s mouth and the latter from a blue tape.
The regulations for the Appellations are the following:

  • Delineation of the wine production and vine cultivation area
  • Grape variety
  • Wine production methods
  • Cultivation techniques
  • The yield from a given area of vines (1/10 of a hectare)
  • Wine’s alcohol content

With Table Wines (Epitrapezios Oenos - Vin de Table) winemakers are able to experiment with the vinification and cultivation methods and to adjust to the market’s changing taste because the production regulations are not as strict. Included in the category are the Topikos Oenos (Vin de Pays) and the Onomasia kata Paradosi (Traditional Appellation).

Topikos Oenos wines bear the name of the region, county, or town, from which they come from and the word "Topikos" (local). The regulations for these wines are the following:

  • Delineation of the vine cultivation area
  • Grape varieties
  • The yield from a given area of vines (1/10 of a hectare)
  • Wine’s alcohol content

Under the Traditional Appellation category we find the Greek Retsina and the Verdea produced in the Ionian Islands. The limitation of resin added to the wine is 1,000 gms per hectoliter.


Greek wine labels

Wine labels give us information about the wine and are detailed because the buyer needs to know quite a lot about a wine before judging it. The laws and regulations governing the wine industry (quality control, health standards, and authenticity) are translated on the label and protect the consumer.

A. O.P.A.P. (Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality) and O.P.E. (Controlled Appellation of Origin)
The Label on such wines must indicate the following:

  • The name of the region from where it comes from
  • The indication O.P.A.P. or O.P.E.
  • The name and location of the bottler
  • The alcoholic title
  • The bottle’s volume

The producer may also want to indicate the wine’s type and the vintage.

B. Epitrapezios Oenos (Vin de Table)
The mandatory indications on the label are:

  • The indication Epitrapezios Oenos
  • The bottler’s name and address
  • The alcoholic title
  • The bottle’s volume

C. Topikos Oenos (Vin de Pays)
The mandatory indications on the label are:

  • The indication "Topikos" (this suggests a certain grape variety)
  • The name of the producer or company
  • The bottling location
  • The serial number which contains the first two letters of the region

Other descriptive terms found on labels for the following wine categories:

A. O.P.A.P. (Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality) and O.P.E. (Controlled Appellation of Origin)
Reserve White: 2 year aging (minimum: 6 months in the barrel, 6 months in the bottle)
Reserve Red: 3 year aging (minimum: 6 months in the barrel, 6 months in the bottle)
Grand Reserve White: 3 year aging (minimum: 12 months in the barrel, 12 months in the bottle)
Grand Reserve Red: 4 year aging (minimum: 2 years in the barrel, 2 years in the bottle)

B. Epitrapezios Oenos (Vin de Table)
Cava White: 2 year aging (minimum: 6 months in the barrel, 6 months in the bottle)
Cava Red: 3 year aging (minimum: 6 months in new oak barrels or 1 year in old oak barrels, 2 years in the bottle)

C. Topikos Oenos (Vin de pays)
Ktima (Estate), Monastiri (Monastery), Archondiko (Chateau), Villa
The wine production and vine cultivation must take place in the same delineated area.

Click here to read about storing, serving and other interesting information on wine in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of fine Cretan wines.


Tsikoudia (also called raki) is a must in Crete and no one visiting the island can avoid it. It is considered the spirit of life and Cretans claim to owe a lot of their open heart character and joy for life to this magic drink. It is a natural, strong, clear distilled spirit containing approximately 37% alcohol per volume and is produced from the must-residue of the wine-press when distilling aromatic grapes harvested in mid-August. It has to be accompanied by some food and can be served with appetizers before the main meal, with the meal or after meals as an aperitif (it is an excellent digestive) in small bottles and poured in small shot glasses and consumed in small sips or in one go. It is a very traditional Cretan drink with almost every house in Crete producing its own with a different potency. There are lots of small tavernas on the island called “rakadika” which serve tsikoudia together with small plates of escorting dishes.

During the Turkish occupation of Crete the name raki was given to the local tsikoudia, since there were some similarities with Turkish raki. Now both names are used in Crete equally. The Turkish raki has a history going back 300 years. But it all started much longer ago: famous coppersmiths from Armenia and the Pont, who made nice decorated distilling vessels, confirmed the deep knowledge of distillation in all the Byzantine empire. History even goes further back as tsikoudia was one of the favourite drinks of the Minoans who drank it with their meals. The European Union protects the unique Cretan tsikoudia and considers it original only when coming from its place of origin which is Crete (as it does with other protected drinks such as Cognac, Grappa di Barolo, Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, Ouzo, etc.).

As with many gastronomic delicacies, most alcoholic beverages have their roots in poverty and tsikoudia is no exception. Every year after the vines are pruned, the vineyard provides wood for the fireplace, grape leaves for cooking, grapes as a fruit or pastry and, of course, wine. Some of the grape must is used to make molasses (“petimezi”), which when combined with flour become must-jelly, must-rolls as well as other well-known Greek pastries. When must is made from grapes, the seeds, stems and grape-peels aren't thrown away, rather they are distilled to produce tsikoudia.

Grape-gathering, wine-making and tsikoudia-making are activities enjoyed in the autumn every year. Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria", or wine presses. This can be done by feet or with small machinery. What remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed, is allowed to ferment and is then distilled.

Traditional distilleries consist of large copper boilers and include long copper funnels on top so that the steam can escape. The funnels, which pass through barrels placed on the sides of the distillation flask and are filled with cold water, end up on the outside of the barrels, on top of empty glass containers. Herbage is first placed on the bottom of the boilers which are then filled with stemfila and a little water or wine, hermetically sealed and finally placed onto the bonfires. The hot steam passes into the funnel and as it then travels through the barrel of cold water, it condenses and liquidates. In approximately half an hour, the warm tsikoudia begins to fall drop by drop, on the other side of the funnel, into the glass containers.

The liquid that first comes out of the funnel cannot be consumed but is used for pharmaceutical purposes. The final amount of distilled liquid contains the least amount of alcohol, whereas the actual tsikoudia is produced during the middle of the entire process. This lasts for about three hours, during which the owners of the boilers must test for alcohol content, increase or decrease the heat and finally stop distillation when the tsikoudia has acquired the desired taste. It takes two to three distillation processes in copper caldrons for the production of the tsikoudia.

The entire process becomes a celebration in which friends and relatives take part by bringing food and sampling the drink as it is being made. Each step in the distillation process has a particular ritual and the presence of friends is a must.

In some places of Crete people make a variety of tsikoudia, called mournoraki. This is coloured red and is distilled from mulberries. It is quite rare and even stronger then tsikoudia.

Raki is claimed to be a medicine for many ordinary diseases, like colds, toothaches, headaches or diarrea. It is even used for massages and “rakomelo” which is a raki with honey (comes already mixed, see our Wines & Raki section) is very soothing and an excellent cure for coughs, sore throats etc.

Click here to read tips on drinking raki in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of fine Cretan raki.


Carob is a superfood in its own right. It is delicious, loaded with nutrients and it does not contain caffeine or theobromine which are 2 substances found in cacao, thus it doesn’t have the side-effects associated with cacao. In fact there are no known side effects from consuming carob to excess.

Eat as much carob as you like and benefit from a whole range of nutrients such as vitamins A, B1, B2, calcium, magnesium, potassium and trace minerals iron, copper and others. Carob may not contain as much magnesium as cacao, but it does contain three times the calcium. This is why carob is also commonly used as animal feed during the animals (sheep, goats) lactation period.

Carob has a very colourful history, it is native to the Mediterranean and cultivation of the tree started around 4000 years ago. The carob tree is very resilient and grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas, hence why today it is grown in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and in lots of other parts of the world with similar climates.

The earliest use of carob by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans was of course eating the pods raw straight from the tree.

Carob is also known as St Johns bread this is because of its reference in the bible. It is said that St. John the Baptist survived his time in the dessert by eating carob, then known as locust bean.

Carob trees are abundant in Crete.  Carob has a very high nutritional value since its skin contains 80% protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamins.  When carobs are boiled, the honey that is inside the pod produces charubia (also known as carob honey) whose taste is like that of chocolate.  However, charubia is far superior in terms of nutrition to chocolate since among other qualities it contains 52 times less fat, no caffeine, no allergens and its sweetness is due to natural sugars.

Charubia has many qualities including soothing the stomach, helping with the smooth functioning of the intestine and it can be used as a natural sweetener in many sweets (yogurt or ice-cream topping, cereal, cakes, etc.) and herbal teas.

To see our healthy, natural and delicious products made with carob please click here.


Ancient Greeks were the first to discover the concept of soap. It is believed to have originated in the island of Mytilini (Lesvos) by the participants in the ritual of animal sacrifice. Over time, they realised that the left over fats and residues, when mixed with rainwater and the ashes from the fires, formed a type of soap - a process now referred to as saponification - that could be used as a cleansing agent for general cleaning, clothes, etc. As time went by, the animal fat was replaced with oil and salts were added to the water making the soap suitable for personal hygiene and body-care. Wall-paintings and inscriptions from the Minoan era serve as proof that olive oil was used a lot as a cleansing agent (soap), a cosmetic and a body ointment.

The handmade, natural soaps from Crete you will find in our site, are made using only 100% fresh and natural ingredients known for their nutritious and cosmetic value such as olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil and almond oil along with a wide variety of herbs (a lot of them endemic to Crete). The products are free of toxic and chemical substances, synthetic colours, perfumes and preservatives and are completely handcrafted from scratch in small quantities using traditional cold process methods. Furthermore, the production process used is totally environmentally friendly, not polluting nature and using only recyclable materials.

They truly are the most pure substance you can use to cleanse your body.

Click here to read tips on maintaining natural, handmade soaps in our Tips section.

Click here to go directly to our selection of handmade, natural Cretan soaps.


It must he said that there is nothing magical or mysterious about Organic farming. It is simply a low input/low output system -one that our ancestors would have understood. Its approach is based on maintaining a sound and well-balanced soil.

Over the past 40 or so years, conventional farming has been towards the increased use of chemicals in ensuring good nutrition and health in crops and animals, the Organic approach is that these tasks should he carried out naturally, without the use of chemical interference.

The natural environment of Crete favours the development of "earth friendly" methods of growing crops, particularly with regard to basic agricultural products, i.e. those that have adjusted well to the climate of Crete. In the last few years a group of organic growers embarked on a very significant project: to make available select organic products that would meet the exact requirements of modern consumers.

This task started from the olive groves, expanding to garden produce. Demand for such products was impressive.

Every year new farmers join organised groups of organic farmers, while scientific research in the field of organic farming is flourishing.

Each country has its own registration bodies. In Greece, organic farms must he inspected and registered in Greece by bodies such as DIO or BIOHELLAS.

 



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