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Cretan Diet
About Crete - Cretan Diet

On an international scale there is much discussion about, and deep interest in, finding the ideal diet, which will improve the health of human beings warding off illnesses. Ever since antiquity, the traditional diet of Cretans seems to be just such a one, including all the right ingredients.
The Greek island of Crete has always been identified with healing and regeneration.
And once again, an ancient culture may offer lessons to the people of today!

Following scientific research and statistical analyses, the Cretan nutrition and diet has been proven to promote health and longevity. It consists almost exclusively of products that the people of Crete produce naturally. Products that only the island of Crete and its ideal climatic conditions can offer.

It is not only the unique in taste and quality Cretan products but also their combination, which gives an enormous nutritional value and can be found in every Cretan dish.

A comparative study among several developed countries, which began in 1960 on behalf of seven countries, has a group of about 700 Cretan men from the countryside under medical observation, regularly checking the state of their health: so far this group has had the lowest percentage of deaths caused by heart attacks and different kinds of cancer.

This study has also shown the Cretan population to be the longest living one: when, in 1991, thirty one years after the beginning of the study, the Social Health Sector of the University of Crete undertook the medical checkup of the group, about 50% were found to be still alive as opposed to the rest of the six participating countries where there wasn't a single survivor (even in the rest of Greece)!Until recently the diet was simple and wholesome: olive oil, which counted for the 1/3 of the individual's daily need in energy, but mainly cereals, principally bread, pulses, vegetables and fruit and, to a lesser degree, cheese, milk, eggs, fish and a little red wine with every meal.

Taking into account the conditions of today's life, we would recommend a return to the traditional Cretan eating habits. If someone decides to incorporate a Cretan-like diet, it is good to know the following basics:

  • Use olive oil as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils.
  • Drink a moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women.
  • Eat fresh fruit as a typical daily dessert; limit sweets with a significant amount of sugar and saturated fat.
  • Incorporate an abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat minimally processed and seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.
  • Total dietary fat should range from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of total calories.
  • Eat low to moderate amounts of cheese and yoghurt daily.
  • Consume low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry weekly; and limit eggs from zero to four Color servings per week.
  • Only eat red m Color eat a few times or just one time per month.  

In the latest years many mentions have been made about the Cretan Diet (Mediterranean Diet). So it is now well known that the Cretan Diet is not only aromatic and tasteful, but also extremely healthy. The food has already taken the right place in our culture, equivalent to our monumental identity and our sun and sea. The most important product that gave so much credit to Cretan Diet is our virgin olive oil. The contribution of the local wine, vegetables, meat, dairy products (feta cheese, gruere) is also significant.

The modern dietology considers the Cretan diet and the Cretan way of life as the reason for long living and good health. Most of the international researches bring Crete forward as the example of the Mediterranean Diet. Since the suggestion that the residents of the island have the lowest mortality rates internationally and the less heart attack or cancer diseases, scientists started searching for the identity of the Cretan Diet that gives the Cretans all these health privileges. But very soon it was obvious that it was all about a story well hidden in the past time. That means it isnąt a result of a research by some scientists but a biological experiment that lasts thousands of years!

For the Cretans, the secret of good health and long living is very simple. They eat all that their rich solid gives them. Many fruits, vegetables, groceries, legumes, varieties of cheese, olive oil and bread. They scent the taste with marvelous herbs like oregano, they make desserts with natural sweetening materials, honey and molasses, and accompany their meal with excellent local wine.

Cretan Recipes
The Cretan Cuisine is characterized by the distinctness of its tastes, the exclusive use of pure olive oil and plenty of fresh vegetables not found in other parts of Greece (stamnagathi, askrolibi, bulbs, wild asparagus, wild mushrooms). The various kinds of meat are almost exlusively products of the island (goat, lamb, rabbit, poultry) as the production of veal and pork is very limited. The sea food is plentiful (but not mussles, oysters etc) and is eaten in the traditional Greek way, i.e., fried, roasted, baked or in soups. The recipes that are suggested here are typical of the way of life and the cooking tradition of the island.
So donąt miss, during your stay in Crete, to taste all the islandąs traditional recipes. Appetizers and dishes like rusks, honey and cheese, pies from Sfakia, grass pies, cream cheese, boiled snails, staka, stuffed vine leaves, rabbit casserole, patty, Sfakian casserole and many more are tastes you will remember for ever.

Situated in the Southern Aegean basin, Crete forms a boundary between the Aegean Sea and Africa. The island (256 km long and 60 km at its widest point) is dominated by its great mountain backbone which slopes gently to the North, enjoying the cool Aegean breeze, and descends sharply on the Southern coast, protecting it from the hot African winds. On Crete is the most traditional vineyard in Europe consisting mainly of self-sown varieties of vine. Since the Minoan period, for almost four thousand years, Crete has been renowned for its wines which have been both a product of local consumption as well as a considerable article of commerce. At that period the wine was transported by the Cretan ships which dominated the seas.

During both the Byzantine period and the Venetian dominion, Cretan wine held the first place amongst exports. It was then that Malvazias, the sweet Cretan wine, became famous. It was mainly produced from the «Liatico» a variety which is still widely cultivated. Since the Minoan period the Cretan vineyard has produced both red and white wines. Today the vineyards of the Hania district expand as far as Kissamos, the most important vinicultural region of the prefecture. Although there are still a few existing vineyards in the prefecture's plain, numbers have considerably diminished due to kind and are locally called Marouvas. Liatico is the second variety, which is mainly cultivated in the Sfakia and East Apokoronas regions. It has the best potential for high quality sweet wines. Other, less cultivated varieties in the Hania prefecture are Moshato, Spinas, Kotsifali, Grenage-Rouge, Carignane and Tsardana.The first bottled changing attitudes (touristic development, irrigating schemes).

However, viniculture still flourishes in mountainous or semi-mountainous regions. Therefore Hania is considered one of the top wine-producing prefectures, particularly because of its wine-making varieties. Among the varieties cultivated in the prefecture, the Romeico or Mavro Romeico is outstanding. The main region where it is cultivated is Kissamos as well as Kydonia. Kissamos alone has the biggest vineyard with the largest yield of the highest standard, approximately 10.000 km2. Wines of this variety are aged in oak barrels and acquire the typical characteristics of oxidized wines of the Madeira appear back in 1960. Bottling of Clos de Greta and Retsina (resinated wine), was originated by the Kentriki Enossi Hanion (Hania Central Union). In December 1980 an ambitious effort was made by Kissamos' EAS aiming at developing the traditional production using modern technology and know-how.

The creation and operation of one of the top modern wineries in the Balkans is the crowning achievement of this effort. Bottlings from this vinery include Cavalliere, Kriticos Topicos Enos, Amalthia, Castelliere (red wines) Cavallier, Amalthia (rose ones) Cavalliere, Castelliere, Amalthia (white ones). We must not forget to mention «OSTRIA», a unique wine in Greece. It comes entirely from the Romeico variety which is aged for eight years in French oak barrels at high temperatures and under strict conditions. The outcome of this process is an excellent product of the sherry family, meant for those who would like something more than a good wine. Also in the area Apokoronou we have the Logari wine (white rose and red). Among the flourishing small-scale producers of high quality wines in Greece (Hatzimihalis, Yerovassiliou, Protopapas) Karavitakis's Ambelonas (Vineyard) distinguishes itself in Hania and all over Crete with an excellent variety of white wine.

Crete food is characterized by the unique virgin oil from olive trees that is cooked with the food.

Milatos has a lot of taverns all by seaside and it is famous for that. You can eat and hear the noise from the waves that hit almost your legs . Worth visiting taverns are "Akrogiali", "Seirines", "Xatzis" "Meltemi" and "Meraklis" . Don't miss fish food and specially "rofos kakavia" that is a special fish fished at Crete sea cooked as a soup with carrots, potatoes, marrows, onions and tomatoe. Allthough a little expensive, don't miss it. It is worthless if you come to Milatos and not taste "Hohlious mpoumpouristous " or "hohlious giahni" that you can find at Latsida a nearby village that has that tavern. They are Crete snails that are cooked on the pan with vinegar and rosemary or cooked in marmite with tomato and marrots. Also worth tasting the "souvlaki" and "aiga kokinisti" that is goat cooked with tomato. Another worth visiting village famous for its food is Kroustas near to Kritsa and Agios Nikolaos that you can find at its tavern "aiga vrasti" with "skioyfihta makaronia" that is goat boiled with local made spaggheti. Combine one day tour and visit Anogia (otherwise a worth visiting place for its history ) and taste "arni antikristo" that is lamb cooked opposite to fire.

Anthotyros xeros (dried anthotyros)
When anthotyros is dried you get anthotyros xeros. While drying it is heavily salted and therefore it is rather savoury. It is a wonderful cheese, eaten plain as well as grated over pasta. It can also be turned into the delicious ladotyri (cut in cubes and packed in olive oil)

It is made of either sheep or goat's milk. It is a very tasty, soft, sweet, white cheese. Since it is not rich in fat, it is very healthy. It is eaten in the same way as myzithra.

Myzithra glykia (sweet myzithra)
It is made of either sheep or goat's milk (sometimes mixed as well). The best myzithra comes from goat's milk. It is delicious and light.

Xynomyzithra (sour myzithra)
It is made of either sheep or goat's milk (sometimes mixed as well). It is an excellent kind of cheese, very tasty but rather rich in fat. Both cheeses are eaten in numerous ways, forexarnle; plain, or with paximadi (hard bread) in salads or as a filling in kaltsounia (traditional cheese pies) etc.

Graviera (gruyere)
It is made of sheep's milk or mixed with goat's milk. We should say that it is not only famous locally but universally as well.

It is made exactly as graviera. The difference is that kephalograviera is aged more and therefore it is more savoury (due to the larger quantity of salt it has absorbed). Of course the quality remains the same

It is made from staka when it is processed and of course it is equally as rich. See our recipe section about its use.

Typical cheese of sheep's or goat's milk or mixed. However it can not be classified as a traditional product of Western Crete since its production has started only recently.

Yaourti paradossiako (Traditional Yogurt)
It is made of top quality sheep milk (hours' fresh). Due to its freshness, yaourti has a high consistency of fresh milk fat which makes it delicious.

Any cheese like graviera, kephalograviera or antho-tyros xeros can be turned into ladotyri provided it is aged and dried for over a year. It is then cut into cubes and packed in virgin olive oil. This very old process presumably originated in harsh times, when refridgeration facilities were not available.

Staka or Anthogalo
It is the cream of the milk, the first product of the milk process. If it is beaten, we get fresh butter. It obviously has a high consistency of fat.

Malaka or Tyromalaka
It is a fresh cheese (tyro-maza) and is used as a filling in kaltsounia.

Green crushed olives (Tsakistes)
Take big green olives (tsounates), wash them and then crush them with a flat stone taking care not to break the pip. Put the olives in a big pot and pour boiling water over them. Let them stand for half an hour. This way their colour does not fade. After draining them, put them in a big glass or earthenware jar full of fresh water. Change the water morning and evening for 5-6 days. This will draw the bitterness. It might take a couple of days longer. Dissolve half a cup of salt in a glass full of lemon or sour orange juice. Pack the olives in this «brine» and pour some olive oil to cover them. This will prevent the olives from «breath-ing», otherwise they will go mouldy. Recipe designed for a five-kilo jar.

Black salted olives (pastes) or seliniotikes or alat-solies
Use small, black olives. First wash them and then soak them in water for three days. After draining them, layer them in a straw basket with coarse salt on top of each layer. Leave 25 cm at the top of the last layer so that when you shake the basket every 5-6 days, the olives can be evenly salted. Remove the excess salt with a big sieve 18-20 days later. Wash, drain and oil the olives by hand before serving.

Pickled olives (ksydates)

Use big black olives. Slit them making sure not to touch the pip. Soak them in water and freshen them for 5-6 days as for the above Tsakistes. Pack them In a jar with water where you have dissolved a small quantity of quicklime (the size of a walnut per kilo). After 4-5 hours remove, drain, and soak the olives in vinegar for one day. Drain and preserve them in olive oil.

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