Greece – Cretan nutrition

Nutrition: Greece – Cretan nutrition

The Mediterranean diet is currently considered by nutritionists as a modus vivendis that endows people with longevity and sound health, with Crete at its epicenter, as supported by research conducted on an international scale. The history of Cretan diet is very old; its roots lie deep in the Neolithic Age. On the basis of archeological findings, it seems that ancient Cretans, the Minoans, consumed pretty much the same products that are being consumed by modern Cretans today: olive oil, grain, legumes and honey. During the Byzantine period, the Cretans remained faithful to their dietary legacy and cooking habits. A turning point in the Cretan diet occurred with the introduction of new crops, particularly of the tomato, from the New World. Cretans consume a lot of fruit, vegetables, greens, fresh produce, legumes, cheese and bread. Cretans use herbs to add flavor to their meals: they make sweets/cakes with natural sweeteners, honey and grape-juice syrup; while the excellent Cretan wine is an indispensable accompaniment to their meals. Cretans did not eat meat until a few decades ago. Meat has always had a ritual quality in Crete, and generally in Greece. In modern times, they consumed meat only a few times a year, i.e. during festivities or, if wealthy enough, every Sunday. Cretans are very well aware of the health benefits from moderate wine consumption; it is part of their culture: good wine is a perfect accompaniment to every dinner. Consumption of wine is not a solitary practice; it goes hand in hand with social events, good company and comradeship. Cheese consumption on Crete is the largest on a world scale. The taste of Cretan cheese, gruyere and its varieties (kefalotyri, kefalograviera), sweet and sour soft cheese and other dairy products is unsurpassed. A significant source of calcium and proteins with high biological value, the Cretan cheese plays a significant role in Cretan diet. That which distinguishes the Cretan diet from any other type of Mediterranean diet is the significantly higher requirements from fruit consumption. It has been estimated (A. Keys, 1970 and D. Kromhout, 1989) that the average Cretan consumes four times more fruit than the average southern European and six times more than the northern European. English Robert Pashley (1834) was impressed by the black loaf of bread that was made by the monks of Crete. It was made from wheat, barley, and rye. The fibres contained in the traditional Cretan bread boost the good operation of the intestines, particularly of the large. Whole grain bread is rich in vitamins, particularly of the B complex, indispensable for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Until the last few decades Cretans consumed brown bread, while white bread (without bran) was consumed only five or six times a year, at Christmas, Easter, during the religious festivities on August 15, and at social events. In Crete you will find large, doughnutshaped hard bread rolls, usually pre-sliced, horizontally in half. In Crete, raisins and must, along with honey, constitute the most important traditional sweeteners. The vines of Crete produce ideal varieties of grapes that can easily be turned into raisins. Raisins are consumed either raw or mixed in various other preparations, e.g. cakes, rolls, pies, or in combination with dried fruits. The delicious pastries and bakery products contain the minimum in fatty substances and no cholesterol. 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. Crete produces the most aromatic honey in the world. Crete has produced honey since pre-historic times. One more basic feature of the Cretan diet is the large consumption of vegetables and other products of vegetable origin, e.g. the tomato, which revolutioned the Cretan cuisine and shaped the character of Cretan diet as we know it today. Other agricultural products of Crete are cucumbers, marrows, etc, which are cultivated in the lush valley of the island under the most favourable weather conditions. Garden products are cultivated in the suthern, coastal regions of Crete, mainly at Ierapetra, Messara, south of Rethymnon, in the coastal area of Selino or of Kisamo and elsewhere.
Finally me mention the most famous Cretan recipes with grains: Dacos; Kalitsounia; Mizithropita; Macaroni; Pies from Sfakia; Patty from Hania; Xerotigana; Patouda.

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