The names of foods, cooking methods, and basic ingredients have changed little since antiquity. Greece is a nation of small farmers who produce an incredible array of mainly organically-produced cheeses, oils, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes and vegetables, supplemented by an array of greens and aromatic herbs that grow in the wild. Consequently, most vegetables are cultivated in natural ways, maintaining their aroma and flavour. Important vegetables include tomato, aubergine (eggplant), potato, green beans, okra, green peppers and onions.
Greece’s climate is perfect for growing olive and lemon trees, producing two of the most important elements of Greek cooking. Greek olive oil deserves a special note. This characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is of excellent quality and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food.
Greek cuisine favours certain native herbs and flavourings, namely: oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. However, many Greek recipes, especially in the northern parts of the country, use “sweet” spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon and cloves in stews, though these are not native to Greece.
These are the foods and herbs that form the base of the traditional Greek regimen, to which they add both variety and nutrition. With much of Greece made up of islands – and no part of the Greek mainland more than 90 miles from the sea – fish and seafood are a popular and common part of the Greek diet. The climate and mountainous terrain has tended to favour the breeding of goats and sheep, which are allowed to graze freely, and thus produce cuts of excellent quality. Lamb and goat (kid) are the traditional meats of holidays and festivals. Poultry, beef and pork are also in plentiful supply, with some ancient Greek pig breeds undergoing a revival.
Honey in Greece is very pure and of high quality. It is mainly from the nectar of fruit and citrus trees: lemon, orange and bitter orange, thyme honey, and pine honey, with some excellent coumarin honey, with its unusual, almost savoury taste. Greeks love honey and produce many delicious desserts with it.
Mastic (aromatic, ivory coloured resin), with its unique culinary and health benefits is native to the Aegean island of Chios and can only be found there.
A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including the world famous feta cheese made from goat and sheep’s milk, but also other white cheeses such as: anthotyros, manouri, metsovone and mizithra and matured yellow cheeses such as: kasseri, kefalotyri, graviera, to name just a few.