The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits –
Since ancient times, the Greeks had realized how precious the gifts of Mother Nature were. The Mediterranean climate along with the geological formations of the country created a fertile ground where an abundance of wild herbs and plants could grow. About 1800 endemic species that grow on Greek soil have certified medicinal properties. Over the years, the Greeks have come to discover the properties of these special herbs and foods… This month we feature Anthotyro – delicious cheese produced in Greece and enjoyed globally!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” –Hippocrates
ORIGIN AND TRAITS
Greece is the land of diversity, the home of unique mainland and island landscapes; the scenery, the atmosphere and even the people of each region are so different, yet so fundamentally interconnected with each other that create a harmonious unity. This is probably the reason why the country is such a popular tourist attraction; every place guards its charm while still being part of an overall balanced totality.
If that was enough to trigger you to put Greece on your summer vacation bucket list, there is something more you need to know. Speaking of diversity, the country boasts a wide variety of types of cheese which are a part of local cuisines and 21 of which have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
Kalathaki of Lemnos and Katiki of Domokos or San Michalis PDO cheese of Syros are only a few representatives of a long list of local Greek dairy products. However, there are two products which surpass the borders of local cuisines and have expanded worldwide. Feta cheese and Anthotyro are produced in regions all over the country and are introduced and included in recipes all over the world.
Anthotyro, in particular, is made from whey or goat milk or a combination of the two, in which a small quantity of sheep’s cream is added in the final stages. There are two types of anthotyro, fresh and dry. Fresh anthotyro is of a softer firmness and light, creamy taste and can be consumed plain as table cheese or added in sweet or savory dishes. Dry anthotyro has a hard and dry structure, salty taste and rich aroma, similar to myzithra. The dry variant is usually used in grated form and is more long-lasting.
It is produced in regions all over Greece with minor variations in production process.
BENEFITS AND HEALING PROPERTIES
As its name indicates, anthotyro (anthos – flowery cheese) stands for the best part of the cheese, with supreme quality. Judging by the fact that it is an all-natural produce which bears the nutrients of milk but has lower saturated fat and salt concentration than other dairy products, it seems to live up to its name.
Anthotyro contains 14-20% of fat and is low in sodium. It has a moderate cholesterol and high lactose content. It is digestible and is advised to be consumed by people who want to maintain or lose weight. Due to its low sodium content, it is suitable for diabetics and people who suffer from hypertension, kidney and cardiovascular diseases or water retention.
Anthotyro is rich in high biological value protein which provides with energy and increases satiety. Amino acids aid in muscle and bone growth and enhance cognitive function and memory, protecting against dementia.
This native Greek dairy product has also got a high content of calcium and magnesium, which help ensure skeletal and dental health and lower the risk of osteoporosis. According to research, cheese consumption can stimulate the saliva flow, which protects against tooth decay. Magnesium also aids in stress and anxiety relief, it helps prevent migraine headaches and is effective against insomnia.
Anthotyro is rich in phosphorus which helps detoxify and protects against urologic diseases. Cheese consumption also provides a complex of vitamins A, E and B. These vitamins have antioxidant properties which promote cell growth and fight against free radicals. They also have an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory function.
USE AND DOSAGE
Anthotyro has 180 calories per 3,5 oz. and compared to feta it has a lower caloric value while still offering nutrients and health benefits. It is ideal for weight loss or maintenance and should be consumed in moderation.
Fresh anthotyro can be consumed as a table cheese at any time, as a starter, main course or desert. You can have anthotyro for breakfast with a slice of bread and a tablespoon of honey or make a dressing with sundried tomatoes and dill.
It can be added in omelets, salads or in pies, as a healthy alternative to saltier types of cheese. It makes a perfect addition to Cretan ntako (rusk with tomato, oregano and olive oil), which is a complete and light meal, ideal for this season.
In pastry, anthotyro is a great alternative to cream cheese and it can be used in its place. For example, it is frequently used in cheesecake or is a key ingredient in sweet pies with honey and berries.
RESEARCH AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Anthotyro is a protein whey cheese which, due to its ingredients and production process, offers the benefits of a dairy product with however less sodium and calories. In the medical and nutritionist community, anthotyro is an alternative to other types of cheese of higher fat content.
Anthotyro is a staple in modern Greek cuisine. In an article published on Science Direct, there was examined the relation between the fact that Greece is the country with the highest cheese consumption in the EU but the lowest percent of breast cancer deaths. It was concluded that, “This is a first indication that cheese consumption has beneficial effects in mammary cancer protection.”¹
Research has also been conducted on how the basil essential oil could affect the quality and freshness of anthotyro. It was concluded that, “This study has shown that the combined use of either VP or MAP, and basil EO, can extend the shelf life of whey cheese and maintain the freshness and the sensorial characteristics of the product.” ²