Don't look for a pill that can substitute the Cretan diet. There is no such thing Serge Renaud, 1998
The Cretan diet has been studied by scientists the world over. The rather surprising findings of those studies have caused a worldwide sensation by documenting the enormous benefits to the islanders' health and the low incidence of several diseases compared to other places on the globe.
Due to its unique biodiversity and special climatic conditions, Crete is a place that favors the growing of excellent native wild herbs and greens. This, along with the pastoral products, has shaped the eating habits of the Cretans for centuries and built the reputation of the Cretan diet as the healthiest diet among the rest of the Mediterranean diets. The dietary pattern of the Cretan diet is mainly based on the consumption of olive oil, large quantities of vegetables, and reduced meat.
Besides the actual eating habits, however, what makes the Cretan diet unique among other Mediterranean diets is the whole philosophy that comes with it. It is essentially a whole new way of life that encompasses essential social values and habits such as hospitality, family life, fasting, and daily exercise, which is traditionally connected with agricultural and livestock-keeping activities.
Of course, modern societies have had to adjust to a faster-paced routine that affects every aspect of human interaction. In this context, consumers put food and food sourcing under ever-increasing scrutiny. Food scandals and issues of hygiene in food production have never been more widespread. In these troubled times, products unique to the Cretan diet offer a safe alternative, as their century-old qualities make them rather unique among modern food trends. And even though tradition is what makes this diet so special, it wouldn't be as effective if it weren't for the use of local, quality produce. The key distinctive feature is the use of simple but abundant ingredients in preparing Cretan dishes.
The purest of ingredients, simple recipes, respect to seasonality, and minimal processing: just a handful of basic principles that make eating the Cretan way a unique experience. Various chain reactions in the global food industry are constantly changing the facts about what we eat. Minimal use of pesticides and sustainable waste management make Crete one of the most sought-after foodie destinations. Green agriculture and product certification help us protect the values passed on to us through this quintessentially gourmet culture. This is why it can't be stressed enough that the Cretan diet isn't only about what we eat; it's about how we lead our lives and source our produce.
A basketful of local products
The Cretan terrain offers variety and abundance, due to the diverse relief of the island which combines endless shorelines and mountain ranges to offer a wide variety of products. Cretan olive oil is, of course, the jewel in the crown.
Eighteen Cretan agricultural and livestock products, plus 12 local wines, have been awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status so far.
Olive trees and the valuable fruits they yield have been part of Cretan life for more than 3,500 years. Centuries of history form the background of the complex relationship between Cretans, their olive trees, and oil. A long time may have passed since the Minoan era, though the olive tree -fruit and oil alike- is still part of the islanders' lives. Far from being just a product, it stands out as a symbol of Cretan civilization through the ages.
The Cretan livestock farming tradition has resulted in a variety of dairy products, among which excellent cheeses, yogurt, and a sort of crumb-like pasta called ksinochondros, all made from goat and sheep's milk .
Fruit-bearing trees, especially citrus trees, thrive in many areas of Crete. Oranges from Maleme in Chania have been awarded PDO status, though other famous varieties include oranges from the planes of Milopotamos and Fodele, cherries from Gerakari, bananas from Arvi, and apples from Lassithi Plateau. At present, alternative crops have been developed and previously ignored products, such as prickly pears, have become standardized.
Traditional Cretan bread and rusks are an important part of Cretan culture. Among the Minoan finds unearthed in the island are the earliest occurrences of simple barley bread. Quite a few traditional baking methods and recipes have survived to the present day, with some even acquiring a mystic tinge (such as the making of a specific rusk, the eptazimo).
Raki or tsikoudia, the spirit preferred by most Cretans, has been awarded PGI status. It appears in every single aspect of social activity and every household on the island. Over time, tsikoudia has become a symbol of kindness and hospitality, a spirit which helps with introductions and starts new friendships. More than just a drink, it's a means of communication between friends and strangers alike.
Crete has the largest natural carob forests in the Southeast Mediterranean. Carob used to be a key ingredient for livestock feed, but it was ignored for several decades before making a comeback. Its sweetening properties made it an important energy source in the Cretan diet, and it was also used to make flour. Carob is attempting a remarkable comeback to modern markets with innovative products used mainly in bakery and confectionery, thus rooting modern food trends in older traditions.
Cretans used to eat more sheep and goat meat than beef or pork. Small-scale livestock farming and the particular relief of the island called for flocks of smaller animals, usually grazing in mountain pastures. Traditional livestock farming would be nothing special if it weren't for the abundance and nutritional value of the indigenous herbs on which the flocks feed. That's what makes their milk and meat so tasty, and their owners so proud.
Honey, one of the most important products of Crete, wouldn't be what it is without the wealth of fragrant plants and herbs thriving on the island. The product first appeared in ancient times. One of the most important finds from the Minoan era is the golden charm with two facing bees, which indicates that beekeeping activity existed early on.
Crete may be an island, but its culture is closer to the mainland type. The inhabitants always preferred areas close to the mountains, where they could peacefully develop agriculture, livestock farming, and trade, as coastal areas were exposed to pirate and buccaneer raids. Several small villages, however, managed to survive and even thrive after the tourism boom.
This is another name for snails, a very particular trademark Cretan delicacy. Popular recipes include cooking them with chondros ; in a tomato, courgette and potato casserole; simply fried; or boubouristi (boiled and then fried with herbs).