Greek gastronomy has recorded a history of around 4,000 years, with special characteristics based on pure and unique quality goods produced on Greek land. In fact, it was Archestratos who wrote the first cookbook in history (330 B.C.). In Greek nutritional tradition the gustative result blends harmonically with the high nutritional value. Dozens of scientific studies have shown the positive effect of a balanced Greek diet on a person’s health, beauty and longevity. In addition, the nutritional culture of the Greeks has traditionally added an extraverted social dimension to the table, combining gustative satisfaction with recreation and communication, and thus maintaining even today some overtones from ancient feasts.
Facts and Figures
The agricultural sector in Greece remains an important sector of economic activity and employment for Greece, with exports of agricultural products accounting for one third of total exports in Greece. Agriculture contributes 4.1 percent of GDP and is characterized by small farms and low capital investment. Greece’s utilized agricultural area is close to 5 million hectares, of which 57 percent is in the plains and 43 percent is in mountainous or semi-mountainous areas. There are about 150 million olive trees in the country, either in systematic orchards or scattered across the country. Lower agricultural productivity in Greece, compared to other EU Member States, is correlated to the smaller average-size of holdings. The economies of scale offered by modern farming practices have limited impact on the small plots of land typically used in Greece.
Organic farming has grown dramatically over the last years constituting an important priority in the sustainable development of the sector in Greece.
Overall, the food and drinks industry are a vital component of the economy, since it has become a dynamic, competitive and export-oriented sector.
Greece is moving towards a more competitive market-oriented agriculture, aiming at producing quality and branded products. Capitalizing on the comparative advantages of different areas and regions, agriculture contributes to the development of the Greek countryside. A greener and more sustainable agriculture is promoted, enhancing the complementarity between rural policy and the Renewable Energy Sources (RES). A new era of high nutritional value food products of the Greek land and sea is on track, emphasizing the importance of the Mediterranean-Greek diet.
Towards CAP 2020
In 2010, the European Union introduced the idea of a reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The new CAP aims at making the European agriculture sector more dynamic, competitive, and effective in responding to the Europe 2020 vision of stimulating sustainable, smart and inclusive growth.
Agriculture is very important – in economic, social as well as environmental terms – for the sustainable development of rural areas in Greece. Changes in the CAP involve making the ‘direct payments’ system more effective, changing the market management tools, focusing more on rural development policy and dealing with price and income volatility.
Greece in particular, has shown signs of difficulty in coping with many of the above-mentioned factors. However, the country is gradually becoming more agile and less dependent on European transfers.
New crops, innovative technology, campaigning for the merits of the Mediterranean Diet and promoting Greek products of Protected Designated Origin already boost Greece’s efforts in welcoming the new era. In addition, guidance is being provided through the whole process, starting from research and cultivation, to standardization, marketing and exports.
Did you know?
Greece is the largest producer of cotton in the European Union with 79,700 cotton farmers. Cotton accounts for more than 9% of the total Greek agricultural output.
A Taste of Greece
Greece enjoys a huge variety of agricultural products. Olives and olive oil, cheeses, wines, mastic and saffron are but a few of the products that have won international acclaim as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and received important distinctions for their quality and particularly delectable characteristics. These are a result not only of the richness of Greek soil, but also the passion and traditional knowledge handed down through the generations to their producers.
Greece ranks among the first in the EU, regarding the list of agricultural products registered as protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI) or Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) products, with approximately 94 entries. These products are olive oils, table olives, cheese, honey, fruits, vegetables, cereals, bread, pastry, fish and related products, other products of animal origin, gums and natural resins, essential oils and other products.
In a recent initiative, called quality farm products’ basket, already known in Europe, Greek regions have launched promotion campaigns at both domestic and international level, aiming at advertising their quality products and mainly those characterized as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication).
The basket, hallmark of regional food’s excellence, includes products of animal and plant origin such as cereals, pome fruits, stone fruits, legumes, wine, herbs – medicinal plants, fodder plants, products made with goat milk, as well as meat, mushrooms, fish, traditional products and others.
Greek Olive Oil is the basis of the Mediterranean Diet. As the main ingredient of every recipe found in Greek traditional cuisine, olive oil plays a dominant role in Greek nutritional habits. Greek olive oil is known worldwide for its purity, exceptional taste and high nutritional value.
Olive oil can be mainly classified as Extra Virgin, Virgin, or Pure, depending on the way it is produced, its chemistry and its flavour. Greece produces more than 430,000 tons of olive oil annually, and more than 75% of that is Extra virgin olive oil, which is considered the best type. Greece is the third largest olive-oil producing country in the world, after Spain and Italy.
Did you know?
- There are approximately 120,000,000 olive trees in Greece.
- Greece is the world’s third largest producer of edible olives and olive oil, with a 16% share of the international olive oil market.
- Some olive trees planted in the 13th century are still producing olives.
- According to Greek mythology, Athena and Poseidon agreed that whoever gave the city the best gift would become its patron. Though Poseidon gave the gift of water, Athena’s gift of an olive tree was deemed by the other gods to be more valuable.
- Olive oil has been regarded as the “beauty oil”. The body’s cells incorporate the valuable fatty acids from the oil, making arteries more supple and skin more lustrous.
Greek vineyards are among the world’s oldest and have produced wines for thousands of years. Thanks to its geographical location in the temperate Mediterranean region, Greece is endowed with favourable climatic conditions for vine growing.
Greek wines, like many agricultural products in Greece, carry a long history and a heritage which comprises unique viticultural practices and a treasure of local grape varieties. This combined with the contribution of keen producers who apply modern, human-scale wine production, make Greek wines different and unique.
The great number of grape varieties native to Greece, Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro and hundreds of other lesser known varieties, offer seasoned wine lovers a glorious terrain for exploring the diversity and singularity of Greek wines.
Almost all Greek wineries participate regularly both in wine competitions and other eminent wine-tasting meetings from which numerous award-winning Greek wines have emerged, placing Greek wine in a coveted position in the international wine scene.
Did you know?
- Greece, the renowned birthplace of Dionysus, the god of wine, has arguably one of the longest wine histories in the world. Wine is being produced in Greece for more than 4,000 years.
Greece produces some of the finest cheeses in the world, for every type of cooking and every occasion. Apart from the best-known feta, many other varieties, equally protected under the PDO provisions, are worth tasting.
Greek cheese, like the hard, salty kefalotyri and graviera, the sweet manouri, the fresh mizithra or the smoked metsovone, are all produced with the most traditional and qualitative way. All these Greek cheeses are exported throughout the International market making Greece and important exporter.
Greek cheeses have great nutritional value and they are rich in elements that are essential for the development of the human organism. They are used in many recipes, in baked goods, casseroles, appetizers, mezedes, with fruit or simply as table cheeses.
Did you know?
- The first recorded cheese maker ever is the one-eyed giant Cyclop, as mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
- The annual per capita consumption of cheese in Greece is about 25 kilos, more than in France or Italy, who are also famous European cheese lovers.
The mastic of Chios island (Mastiha Chiou) is characterized as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, exported from Chios all over the world. It is a natural, aromatic resin, produced from the mastic trees that grow exclusively on the Aegean island of Chios. It is used as a natural chewing gum, but most importantly, it is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and even in the culinary world. Due to its various qualities and unusual taste, mastic is used to produce a large range of other products such as sweets, jams, ice-creams, chocolates, chewing gums, toothpaste, candies, bakery products, beverages, tea, coffee, dairy products, pasta, sauces, liquors, ouzo and wine.
Did you know?
- Although mastic trees grow in many Mediterranean countries, they produce little or no mastic, except for those of south Chios. Therefore, Chios Island is the only place in the world where mastic is produced. This is probably because of the volcanic composition of the soil and the climate.
- The abundant therapeutic properties of mastic had been already noted by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, while its use as the first natural chewing gum and as a cooking spice has also been documented from antiquity.
The Greek Red Saffron (Krokos Kozanis) is PDO protected and placed among the most precious and valuable spices inherited by ancient civilizations, due to its aromatic, colour, pharmaceutical and aphrodisiac properties. The northern Greek prefecture of Kozani is one of just four regions in the world where saffron is grown, and the Greek variety is considered of supreme quality, a distinction worthy of the attribute ‘flower of the Mediterranean cuisine’. Collecting, sorting and processing are done without any help from technology. Approximately 50,000 stigmas are needed to produce just 100 g of red saffron.
Greece is the world’s largest producer of organic saffron and Kozani saffron had been one of only fifteen European agricultural products featured in a campaign to promote quality European farm products outside the European Union. Italy, Spain, the United States, and Australia are some of the main markets for Krokos Kozani.
Did you know?
- Frescoes in the palaces of Knossos (1600 B.C.) clearly depict a young girl gathering crocus flowers. Fragmentary wall-paintings at the archaeological site of Akrotiri, on Santorini Island depict saffron gatherers who offer their crocus-stamens to a seated lady, perhaps a goddess. Moreover, in his writings, Homer calls dawn, a crocus veil.
Fishery and Aquaculture
Greece is a country with a large tradition in quality fishery. With a 4,000-kilometre coastline around the mainland, plus a further 11,000 kilometres around the Greek islands, Greece offers excellent conditions for fishery operations: the waters around Greece are home to approximately 250 marine creatures.
Although modern technology has changed fishing industry worldwide, the majority of Greek coastal fishermen still fish with the traditional methods and fishery fans around the globe include Greek Fishery within their choices and honour them with their preference.
The Greek sea fishery lands around 130,000-160,000 tonnes of fish and seafood every year. About 90% of this is caught in the Aegean Sea. Some of the most common species are sardine, anchovy, sea bream (tsipoura), sea bass (lavraki) and Mediterranean mussels.
The Greek sea is also the source of many delicacies like avgotaraho, a traditional fish roe delicacy, protected under PDO and considered by many as Greece’s answer to caviar. Smoked trout, smoked eel and a host of other preserved fish are among the country’s most prized local delicacies, as well as a growing part of food exports market.
Furthermore, aquaculture provides a significant contribution to primary sector production in Greece. Sea aquaculture, in particular, is constantly increasing its share of contribution to the country’s economy. Greece ranks first in terms of production among European Union and Mediterranean countries with commercial aquaculture finfish species and sea aquaculture ranks second in Greek exports’ food & beverages category. Moreover, it is estimated that over 80% of the Greek production is exported, mainly to Italy, Spain and France, while, lately demand is also growing in Central and Northern Europe.
Did you know?
- Greek fishery is considered a ‘Med champ’. Fish is the second largest agricultural export after olive oil, and sometimes, comes first. The country exports almost 85% of its products and for some species Greece accounts for nearly half of global production.
Greek Mediterranean Diet
The Greek Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest diets. It is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time and space, consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, as well as a variety of condiments and spices, all accompanied by wine or infusions.
According to research carried out in the last 50 years in parts of the Mediterranean, including Crete and southern Italy, the Mediterranean diet model is responsible for the longevity of its inhabitants and the absence of heart diseases or diseases of the digestive system.
However, the Greek Mediterranean diet is not merely a diet, but rather a way of life: it constitutes a set of skills, knowledge and practices, promoting social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events.
Since November 2010, the Mediterranean Diet has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece, along with Italy, Spain and Morocco, thus reinforcing it not only as a fundamental part of these countries’ history and background, but also as a great contribution to the world. See also the Cretan Diet: www.cretan-nutrition.gr
Did you know?
- The word diet comes from the Greek “diaeta”, a word meaning way of life.
- The traditional Mediterranean diet delivers as much as 40% of total daily calories from fat, yet the associated incidence of cardiovascular diseases is significantly decreased.
- Mediterranean diet increases the amount of “Omega-3 fatty acids,” a substance the rest of the developed societies do not get enough of.
- The people of Crete Island are among the longest living in the world. Researchers have linked their longevity to various factors among which, their daily diet.
Agrotourism: It come naturally!
Agrotourism (rural tourism), recently developed in Greece, is a mild form of sustainable tourist development and multi-activity in the agricultural sector, practiced by demanding tourists who are not satisfied with conventional forms of tourism and who, therefore, seek alternative experiences.
Agrotourism promotes the cultural heritage of each area, giving visitors the opportunity to get acquainted with nature and everyday rural life, as well as local customs and traditions, all without altering the character of the countryside. At the same time, agrotourism supports the sustainable development of the countryside by engaging the local society.
In Greece, many businesses throughout the country offer agrotourism programmes in the form of agrotourism catering and recreation centres, travel agencies organizing outdoor activities, excursions of ecotourism as well as local festivals where one can participate in cooking and popular art workshops. Read More: www.visitgreece.gr/en/nature/agrotourism
Wine Tourism has been also developing in Greece, in regions like Crete, the Aegean islands and Central Greece. It is most developed Northern Greece through the Wine Roads programme, sponsored by the Wines of North Greece Organization. It advises visitors to follow a carefully selected route, passing through the most picturesque areas of a viniculture zone and visit select wine-producing units, sample local wines accompanied by the traditional degustation of the region and explore traditional settlements, archaeological sites and various other tourist attractions.
Read More: www.winesofgreece.org