corissia logo

de en

Destination Crete

Crete's delicatessen: The 10 healthiest ingredients of the Crete diet

It is not so much the method of preparation as the high quality of the individual ingredients that makes traditional Cretan dishes so unique. Crete is famous for its aromatic, nutritious food. Get to know what healthy pleasures the Crete diet has to offer!

Healthy, aromatic, varied: the Crete diet is a feast for the senses. On our Mediterranean island, numerous plants, shrubs and trees grow, which are the source of aromatic food. On the pastures of the picturesque landscape, sheep and goats graze, which are the basis of delicious dairy products and hearty meat dishes. From olives to cheese and seafood, the Crete diet offers everything associated with the culinary delights of the Mediterranean. The history of the island is also enriching for the local cuisine. Over the centuries, different cultures have influenced food and drink, resulting in delicious dishes. They are healthy, easily digestible and tasty. With them a balanced diet is guaranteed.


Basis of many warm and cold dishes: olive oil and olives of Crete

Basis of many warm and cold dishes: olive oil and olives of Crete

For the inhabitants of Crete olive oil is the essence of life. It is aromatic, rich in nutrients and is even said to be able to reduce the risk of cancer. Some studies show that it can protect the heart muscle and promote the function of various organs. Also noteworthy is the antioxidant effect that Cretan olive oil can have. With pleasure it is simply eaten with bread. Enriched with herbs it becomes a delicate dip. Of course it is also used for cooking and marinating. Fresh salads can be prepared with it, which gain even more taste through the oil. The basic prerequisite for the strong aroma and high nutrient content is exceptional quality. Cretan olive oil is not produced industrially. It is won by olive pressing, with which without admixtures and extracts is consistently renounced.

Basis for the oil are the olives of Crete, which rank among the best of the world. They thrive on olive trees, which grow on the extensive mountain slopes of the island. The percentage of healthy fats of the stone fruit is extremely high, while the pungency is rather subtle. Two olive varieties dominate the cultivation on Crete. There are thin, small olives that are easy to shake off the tender little tree and can be collected with nets. If you arrive at harvest time between November and February, you will discover numerous workers in the olive groves. Harvesters can also be found in the regions of the island that specialise in growing large olive trees. These trees are called 'tsounates'. To harvest their olives, nets are laid out. The harvest sometimes continues into June, but not all olives are used to produce oil. So there are also edible olives like the 'Seliniotikes', the 'Neratzolies', the 'Tsakistes' and the 'Koftes'. You can enjoy them on their own or as part of a dish. If you like, you can put them in herbs.


Sweet seduction: Cretan honey from the herb garden of the gods

Sweet seduction: Cretan honey from the herb garden of the gods

Honey is the healthier alternative to regular sugar because it is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Cretan honey is also particularly delicious because it is a natural product. The island resembles a herb garden of the gods, which smells heavenly and therefore attracts bees. They are the producers of the delicate Cretan honey, which pampers the palate and can be part of a healthy diet. There are around 2,200 active beekeepers, who together have set up more than 140,000 beehives on the Greek island. The beekeepers constantly change the location of the hives according to the flowering period of the respective plants. In spring they set up their hives near the orange trees in the lowlands. This way, the industrious insects draw the nectar from these fragrant blossoms and create a seductive orange honey. As the year progresses, the beekeepers move to higher and higher altitudes on the island to place their baskets near the late flowering herbs. Very much in demand is the thyme honey that the bees produce in late summer. It can be stirred into a Greek yoghurt or nibbled into fruit, muesli or bread, no matter from which blossoms the nectar and thus the honey ultimately comes: Cretan honey inspires by its naturalness.

The selection of shrubs with fragrant flowers has been immense for thousands of years due to the local vegetation. Beekeepers therefore do not have to feed their bees with sugar between harvest periods. The insects find sufficient food in nature all year round. However, it is not only the beekeepers and gourmets who benefit from this today, but this knowledge has been around for several centuries. Findings from the Minoan era prove that Cretans already knew, produced and appreciated honey back then. It was known as creamy gold, which pampered the palate and could alleviate diseases. At the same time it could accelerate the healing process of some diseases. It can even be used to a limited extent as a detoxifying agent. Honey contains vitamin E, which can rid the body of harmful substances. Gentle production processes at low temperatures ensure that the valuable vitamins of Cretan honey are not lost.


From mild to spicy: cheese products from Crete

From mild to spicy: cheese products from Crete

Who would have thought it! In relation to the number of inhabitants, Crete is one of the regions in the world with the highest cheese consumption. The reason for this is simple: delicious, health-promoting cheese has been produced on the island for centuries. Some of the best known varieties are:

- the hard cheese Graviera (made from sheep's milk and possibly goat's milk)
- the hard cheese Kefalograviera (made from sheep's milk and possibly goat's milk)
- the soft cheese Myzithra (made from sheep and goat whey with the addition of milk)
- the hard cheese Kefalotyri (made from sheep's milk and/or goat's milk)
- the cream cheese Anthotyros (made from sheep's milk and/or goat's milk)

The Cretan cheese tastes very good on the one hand and on the other hand it supports the Crete diet with its nutrients. Thus it is a source of calcium and proteins. Recent research results suggest that the breakdown products of milk proteins can have a preventive effect against cancerous tumours in the breast and prostate. At the same time, Cretan cheeses contain many vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, B6, folic acid.

The high vitamin content is supplemented by minerals and amino acids. The nutrient richness of the Cretan cheese varieties is considered scientifically proven. Whether the ancient Greeks knew about it centuries ago is not historically proven. However, writings indicate that people were aware early on that cheese can be very beneficial to health. For example, the father of the gods Zeus grew up with milk products from the island. A goat fed him with its milk. Even today, goats - just like sheep - are an integral part of the island's landscape. If you travel to Crete and go into the hinterland, you will discover the animals grazing peacefully in many places. They feed on herbs, bushes and grasses. All year round they are outdoors and are not fed with artificial products. In this way, the animals produce a particularly high-quality milk, which is the basis for an excellent cheese. This form of traditional cattle breeding is deeply rooted in Crete. Nothing has changed for centuries. Only the dairies have changed their decision making a little to create delicate cheese under even better hygienic conditions.


Vitamin bombs par excellence: fruit from Crete

Vitamin bombs par excellence: fruit from Crete

Greek mythology has left its mark on the island of Crete and also on its cuisine. According to one of their legends, Gaia gave Zeus and Hera citrus fruits as a wedding present. The Cretans accepted this gift with joy. They know about their vitamin richness and consume fruit regularly. It is an integral part of the Crete diet. In the foreground are the oranges of Crete, which are already mentioned in the travel literature from the 19th century. Today there are extensive orange groves, especially in the region of Chania. You will find more groves in the area around Messara, Heraklion, Fodele and Mylopotamos. Over the centuries, the fruit trees have adapted perfectly to the climatic and geological conditions on the island. They thrive in all their splendour without the use of chemical additives. In this way they bear large, fragrant fruits, which are gently processed in modern facilities to make juices and other orange products. In this way their high vitamin content is not destroyed. These include vitamin C and vitamin B12. Cretans traditionally consumed oranges, especially in the winter months, to protect themselves against colds and flu during the fresh, rainy winter.

Even more famous than the Cretan oranges are the Cretan grapes. They are an integral part of the Crete diet, because they are a tasty, healthy snack. Due to their antioxidant ingredients they perfectly complete the balanced diet. In addition, the small fruits have an amazing amount of trace elements, which have a positive effect on the metabolism. During your holiday on Crete you should not only try the processed products from the grapes - such as wine and raisins - but also the fresh fruits. You will notice that they have an extraordinary aroma. In recent years, the cultivation of seedless varieties, which are suitable for small children without any problems, has increased.


No main course without vegetables

No main course without vegetables

A main course in Crete is usually composed of carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins and minerals. To achieve this perfect mix, vegetables are added. It has a high value in the Crete diet. The nutrient-rich vegetables are eaten raw, cooked or steamed. As a rule, deep-frying is avoided as this could destroy the nutrients and increase the fat content. If you stroll through one of the markets on Crete, you will be amazed at the range of local vegetables on offer. It is so extensive that a lot of variety can be put on your plate. Careful cultivation ensures a natural flavour. It is therefore hardly surprising that Cretans are among the world champions in vegetable consumption. They know about its positive effect on the digestive system, the metabolism and the cardiovascular system.

Some of Crete's vegetables were once introduced by the sailors. The best example of this is the tomato, which has become an integral part of the Crete diet. It is one of the main ingredients, because it can be processed very flexibly and tastes good to everyone. It is worth noting that the island's tomatoes are produced free from hormones and ripen under natural conditions. As a result, they not only have an intense tomato flavour, but also offer a high level of nutrients.

Whether tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers or any other type of vegetable: the climate and soil on the island are ideal for growing vegetables. Large areas of cultivation are located in the Messara region, Ierapetra, Selino, Chania, Kissamos and in the south of Rethymno. In the fertile plains the temperatures never drop below zero and several hours of sunshine allow the vegetables to ripen naturally. Greenhouses and artificial fertilizers are often not necessary. Cretans also contribute directly to the excellent quality of the vegetables. They grow up with the aromatic foods and quickly find out from the taste whether something is artificial. If a farmer offers such a vegetable, his reputation is ruined and his sales collapse. The high standards of the locals thus ensure excellent quality.


Raisins, carob, nuts and more: small things of great importance

Raisins, carob, nuts and more: small things of great importance

What would the Crete diet be without sophistication? To make it possible, some dishes contain very special ingredients. They are not the main ingredient, but they enrich the food with their flavour and nutrients. At the top of the list are raisins. Since Crete is famous for growing grapes, it is a good idea to dry the small fruits. The raisins are rich in vitamins and have an intense taste. They are excellent with baked goods and pies. They are also used for filled sweets.

Less known, but no less appreciated, is the carob. It has made a name for itself among nutrition-conscious people as a superfood because it is a healthy and natural sweetener. Once upon a time in Crete it was mainly given to animals as animal feed. Now it is used as an ingredient for innovative products in pastry shops and bakeries. Carob can provide energy and is suitable for the production of flour.

A rich classic of the Cretan kitchen are the nuts. They contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can have a positive effect on the cell function of the body. Thus they have earned the reputation of being able to protect against heart disease. There are hardly any designated cultivation areas for nuts on the island. Mostly the trees grow wild or in large gardens. Harvesters pick them directly from the trees. The best known nut variety on the island is the almond, which enhances the dishes, especially in autumn and winter. They are free of chemical residues.

In the east of Crete, another exceptional plant thrives, which is internationally appreciated: Aloe vera. Already Alexander the Great knew about its valuable healing properties, which is why it was named 'plant of immortality' even then. It has been used in natural cosmetics for several centuries. Even the pharmaceutical industry has discovered it. It is less known that aloe vera can even be drunk.


From the sea and from the pastures: Fish, crustaceans and meat

From the sea and from the pastures: Fish, crustaceans and meat

Local specialities on an island usually include fish and shellfish dishes. Certainly these are also available on Crete, but the focus of the Crete diet is more on meat than on sea animals. The reason for this can be found in the varied history of the country: Cretans have always preferred to move near the mountains. There they could peacefully pursue cattle breeding and the cultivation of vegetables and fruit. On the coasts, a lively trade with seafaring nations developed, but these regions were not safe. Pirates often robbed the locals. Therefore, the Crete diet mainly uses the meat of lambs and goats as a tasty source of protein. At the same time they give milk, which is processed into cheese. The meat of the animals is very tender and authentic in taste, as they feed quite naturally on the extensive pastures and groves. The same goes for the rabbit and chicken meat, which also enriches the Crete diet.

Although meat is more important for the Crete diet than fish, this is also reflected in several traditional dishes. Especially in the regions around Chania, Agia Galini, Elounda, Milatos and Lasithi there are numerous fish restaurants dedicated to the local marine species. Particularly famous are the octopuses, which you can enjoy braised or grilled under the name chtapódi. Fried sardines - gópes - are popular as appetizers, while fried swordfish is ordered as a main course. The sea animals are rich in healthy fats, which is why they fit perfectly into the concept of the Crete diet.


The spice makes the difference: Crete's herbs

The spice makes the difference: Crete's herbs

What would a kitchen be without seasoning? Countless aromatic herbs thrive on Crete, with which the dishes can be enhanced. But it is not only their aroma that makes them so desirable. A glance at the history of culinary art shows that herbs have always been valued for their possible effects on the organism. They have been skilfully combined with certain foods, for example to promote their digestibility. Here is an extract of the most famous herbs of the Crete diet:

Sage: Between May and June, this plant is easily recognised by its purple-blue flowers. In ancient times the herb was used as a tonic. Today it enriches meat dishes in particular. It is said to have an antibiotic effect.

Wild Majorcan: This plant is in flower between July and August. It is traditionally used for nervous disorders and colds, as it is good for drinking as tea. Its intense aroma gives a tasty flavour to stews.

Oregano: Cretan oregano is harvested from June to July. The flowers have a strong scent and are very spicy. Oregano can enhance fish and meat dishes as well as vegetarian dishes and sauces. It is said to have an appetizing effect. At the same time it is said to have an antiseptic effect. It is also traditionally used on Crete for tooth and stomach aches.

Thyme: The wonderfully fragrant thyme has its flowering period on Crete between June and July. It is of great importance for beekeeping, as its flowers can be used to produce the finest nectar for high-quality honey. In the Crete diet it is a very important spice for dishes. Thyme is said to help against parasites, fever and inflammations.

Real laurels: Stews and sauces enrich the leaves of the real laurel bush. It grows in many places on the island. It is so important for the Crete diet because it is gentle on the stomach and can alleviate digestive problems. It can also be used to make tea, which is used to treat rheumatism and bruises.


Crispy and digestible: Crete's baked goods

Crispy and digestible: Crete's baked goods

Cretan bread did not have a good reputation until the 19th century. For many, it was very unusual because it was wholemeal bread. An English traveller changed the bad image by highlighting the advantages of bread in his 19th century writings. He himself tasted it in the monasteries of Crete and found that the mix of wheat, rye and barley was tasty and digestible. Decades later, and thus in the 20th century, extensive studies took place which proved Cretan bread is rich in valuable fibres which have a positive effect on the intestinal function. Especially the large intestine is activated. Some nutritionists suspect that this wholemeal bread can offer a certain protection against intestinal cancer. Cretans traditionally ate a bread without bran only on the major holidays of the year such as Easter, Assumption Day, weddings and Christmas. This has now changed. However, the Cretan wholemeal bread remains an important part of the Crete diet.

Another treasure of local cuisine is the Cretan rusk, which has even been recognised by the EU as a separate product. It is unique and of high quality. This rusk is rich in natural ingredients and nutrients. In many restaurants the rusk - Paximadi - is served as a side dish. Sometimes it is already provided with finest olive oil or topped with fresh tomato. Fresh cheese can also serve as an ingredient. Herbs enhance the simple dish additionally. The result is a healthy snack that meets all the high demands of the Crete diet.


Representatives of hospitality and conviviality: Crete's drinks

Representatives of hospitality and conviviality: Crete's drinks

Wine is an integral part of Crete's culinary tradition. Enjoyed in moderation it can have a positive effect on the organism. In addition, the juice of the vine has a psychological component, which is another reason for its importance in the Crete diet: wine stands for camaraderie, celebrations and conviviality. It is an expression of hospitality and vitality. Thus, the drink can contribute to inner balance and provide feelings of happiness. These in turn have a demonstrably positive influence on health.

Wine has been drunk and produced on Crete for thousands of years. A wine press more than 3,000 years old has been found on the island. Wine groves have existed on it for more than 4,000 years. As traditional as the cultivation of vines and wine production are, today they are carried out on the island according to modern standards. This guarantees the best quality. The grape varieties used for production are mainly those that have been growing on Crete for centuries. To them belong: Kotsifali, Liatiko, Mandilaria, Romeiko, Vilana. Some winegrowers have complemented the traditional Cretan wine varieties with international vines such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon.

How important wine is for Crete is also shown by a look at the well-known Greek mythology. Dionysus was considered the god of wine. His companion was Ariadne, who in turn was the daughter of the legendary Crete King Minos. Today the legacy of this myth is cultivated with elaborate wine festivals. The largest areas of cultivation of the grape juice are found around Heraklion, Chania and Lasithi.

However, another national drink comes from the grapes of these vineyards: the Raki. It has a higher percentage than wine, as it is a wine residue brandy. You must not confuse it with the Greek ouzo, which has a strong aniseed aroma. Raki is more reminiscent of the classic Italian grappa. There are numerous distilleries on the island that distil Crete's national drink according to old methods.