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Resins From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Resins From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

What are resins and what are their uses in the kitchen? From Amber to Zest, a list of interesting facts and figures you may not know about resins.

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Amber. Resins can fossilise to create materials such as amber. In countries like Lithuania, amber is used to aromatise liqueur, tea and even cheese.

Balsam of Peru. This sweet viscous oleo resin, with a strong scent similar to vanilla, is extracted from a tree called Myroxylon. Not only is it used to aromatise food and beverages, but also to perfume beauty and personal hygiene products, as well as in phytotherapy.

Carlo Cracco. The multi-starred Italian chef presents an extremely simple dish of pasta: rigatoni with mastic and raw porcini mushrooms. The mastic resin is dissolved in a little water and extra virgin olive oil, and combined with cream and mushrooms cut with a truffle slicer.

Dragon’s blood. A bright red resin obtained from various varieties of plants, and comprising Crotons and Dracaena. It has been widely used since antiquity, but not as a food: it has been adopted for medicinal purposes, as a pigment and a varnish, or as an incense in magic rituals and ceremonies.

Extraction. The resin collecting technique consists of cutting into the outer layer of the tree trunk to extract the resin.

Foraging. This practice, which involves collecting and eating plants that grow wild in woodlands, has recently spread from the Nordic countries to other Western nations, stimulating the search for long-forgotten ingredients, such as resins.

Gums. Almost all plant–sourced resins are produced by the plant following a process called “gummosis”. As well as in the production of chewing gum, they may also be used in cooking, owing to the phytotherapeutical properties they often share with resins. For example, in panjiri, a typical dessert in some regions of India and Pakistan, wheat flour is mixed with dried fruit and powdered vegetable gum crystals.

Hashish. This is the name given to cannabis resin, used as a psychotropic drug – and also in the preparation of some sweet foods.

Incense. Many resins, particularly those of a greasy gum-like nature obtained from trees other than conifers, contain strongly scented essential oils which are used in the production of incense, such as myrrh and frankincense.

Jewels. For thousands of years, some resins, amber primarily, have been used to make precious jewellery. And is it edible? Maybe! Some artistic pastry chefs have tried decorating their cakes with edible resin ornaments…

Kino. This rubber, very similar to resin, is obtained from various plants, the eucalyptus tree in particular. When cut, many species produce copious secretions of this so-called “bloodwood”. Used in traditional remedies, it is absorbed very slowly by the intestine, but not at all by the stomach.

Land sharing. This was part of the tenant farming system and originated in the Roman Gaul period in the forests of Gascony, a French region facing the Atlantic: we refer to the activity of extracting resin from trees.

Mastic. Obtained from the tree of the same name whose botanical name is Pistacia lentiscus, which is an evergreen shrub. The word “mastic” derives from Greek, as does “masticate” meaning to chew. In many languages mastic is a synonym for rubber and has always been used to make chewing gum. It starts life as a sap which is left to dry in the sun to obtain the resin.

Non-food. Varnishes, lacquers, glues and adhesive substances, balsam and soap: resins have many valuable non-food applications. Including mummification: Lebanon cedar resin was used for the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Orzata. A sweet Italian syrup that was originally aromatised with benzoin resin, a balsamic rubber resin obtained from the bark of a tropical shrub, the Styrax benzoin, whose taste is reminiscent of bitter almonds.

Patch. Resin serves the purpose of patching up a tree that has been damaged, a sort of natural sticking plaster to cover the wound.

Quite old. Only trees of a considerable age secrete resin: pines for instance must be at least 30 years old.

Retsina. The traditional Greek white wine aromatised with Aleppo pine resin has existed for at least 2,000 years. It is thought that the amphorae used to transport it in antiquity were sealed with the same resin and this is how its aromatic properties were first discovered...

Sylvan. From East to West, resins have made many appearances in sylvan mythology: in Asia Minor it represents the blood of the God Attis, sacrificed so that it may be donated to humanity, or the tears of the chaste nymph Piti, desired by the God Pan and the God of North Wind Boreas.

Tears of Chios. Another name for mastic, deriving from the eponymous Greek Island where it has always been produced and consumed. Also known as Yemen gum. Or Arab gum, not to be confused with gum Arabic. Probably the most widely used resin in food today.

Unbroken. Your favourite food forever intact? Resin. Used in the past for food preservation, today’s artificial version is subject to professional or domestic attempts of a more or less artistic nature - to preserve food forever. Like the pizza by Steph Mantis.

Variety. There is a wide assortment of resins, all of which however are plant secretions. Most resins, with few exceptions, are extracted from conifers.

Wood*ing. This is the name of an innovative Italian laboratory engaged in gathering, preserving and making use of food ingredients that grow wild, comprising resins and birch sap – which gives us an aromatised beverage similar to elderberry.

Xilema. Together with phloem, it is the plant tissue enabling the distribution of sap, a different substance from resin, but one that is also used for human consumption. The example we are most familiar with is that of maple, but birch sap is also used in Eastern European countries. Then, there is aloe vera with its typical gel-like appearance.

Ypovríchio. The name of the typical Greek mastic-based dessert on a spoon – which is then dipped in water and passed from one guest to another. In Greece, as in Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey and the Maghreb countries, this resin is used to aromatise various ice-creams and sweets. In Egypt and Morocco, it is also used in some savoury dishes.

Zest. Adding zest to sweets with a resinous note: this has been a custom since ancient times in various parts of the world. As in the Vosges, the mountain chain of Central West Europe where Scots pine resin is used to add flavour and balsamic qualities to sweets.

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