Mastic Ice Cream

The Greek equivalent of vanilla ice cream, this is uniquely flavored, scented with mastic—the crystallized sap of the wild pistachio shrub (Pistachia lentiscus), which grows only on the southern part of Chios island. Exported to the Arab countries and the Middle East, mastic was the ancient chewing gum: hence the verb “masticate.” To this day, it is still chewed to clean and sweeten the breath, while the ground crystals add their elusive licorice-pine-like aroma to many Greek breads and cookies.

Photo by Anders.


The recipe for this ice cream is a variation from the ice cream created by chef Jim Botsacos. You can serve it topped with sour cherry preserves, as is the custom in Greece, or simply sprinkled with pistachios.  It goes well with baked apples and quince, with the Olive-oil-yogurt Cake, and with the lemony Pandespani cake.

I still remember the wonderful ice creams we used to make in the summers, when I was a child, using a rented hand-cranked machine, to which we added ice and coarse salt. In those days, the cream was thickened not with eggs but with salep, a potent starch produced by pounding the dried tuber of a wild orchid. Ice creams thickened with salep form strands as you dip into them. Today, such wonderful egg-less ice creams seem to be an acquired taste and one can mostly taste them in Turkey.


Makes 1 quart    


1            cup whole milk

3            cups heavy cream

1            cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2  1/2      teaspoons mastic ‘tears’ (see note)

Pinch of salt

8            large egg yolks


In a large saucepan, bring the milk, cream and 1/2 cups of the sugar to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside. Grind the mastic together with 1 tablespoon sugar and a pinch of salt in a mortar or spice grinder.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mastic mixture, the rest of the sugar and the egg yolks.


Gradually pour 1 cup of the hot milk mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly until well mixed. Return the remaining milk mixture to medium-low heat, pour the yolk mixture into the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes; do not let it boil. To test it, dip the back of the spoon into the mixture and run your finger across the spoon; the line should hold.


Pass the cream through a fine-mesh sieve and transfer to an ice cream machine.

Chill over ice cubes and then freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Mastic tears vary in size; for this ice cream I use the small-medium kind.




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