- Citrus fruits
- Pome fruits
- Summer varieties
- Melons and watermelons
- Tropical fruits
- Raisins / dried fruits
The value of fruit to health and life quality is well known. No matter what you say and how well you say it about Cretan fruits is too little to describe what this island offers. Crete apart from being a gigantic olive grove, it is also a gigantic fruit garden.
Cretan climate is heavenly for citrus fruits, such as oranges, mandarins, clementines and lemons. All Cretan gardens have a few of these trees and almost every Cretan owing a patch of land boasts about his or her own annual citrus fruit production. Citrus fruits are consumed raw or as marmalades while lemon juice is widely used in Cretan cooking. Citrus fruits are known to be great aids to our immune system due to their great vitamin C content, as well as their folate (a vitamin helping the production of new body cells) and potassium (mineral assisting in the maintenance of a balanced blood pressure). They are also good sources of fiber thereby benefiting our digestive system. Citrus fruits have also been proven to have anti-cancer effects.
In addition to citrus fruits, Crete is a great source of pome fruits, such as apples and pears which are mainly consumed raw in winter time. These fruits have a lot of antioxidants such as flavonoids as well as vitamin C and fiber, acting also as immune system boosters and defending the body against viruses and cancer. Other popular autumn time fruits are pomegranates, also being great sources of antioxidants and vitamin C.
The impressive fruit season is of course the summer time. The variety and taste is so great that once you get good access to Cretan fruit is really hard to stop yourself. There are amazing local cherries, apricots, peaches, medlars (“mousmoula”), figs, plums as well as strawberries and blackberries. These fruits are great sources of vitamins and antioxidants.
Melons and watermelons
The true Cretan highlights are melon and watermelon. These are so sweet (very hard to find sweeter and fresher ones elsewhere!) and are consumed in great quantities as they abound and are inexpensive. They are the usual dessert following a light lunch of a hot Cretan summer day. Watermelon, just as tomato, contains great quantities of the antioxidant lycopene which defends our body against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Melons contain a lot of beta carotene antioxidant and vitamin C.
Last but not least, Cretans consume a great deal of grapes in late summer, when they become available. Crete has a great number of vineyards coverings thousands of hectares of land in all corners of the island. These provide the necessary raw ingredients for the islands’ alcoholic drinks, those being wine and raki. In addition to grapes for wine making there are grape varieties destined for consumption, such as “stafida”, “rosaki” and “fraoules”. These are harvested at different times depending on the variety and the location and are sold across the island. Note that some of them are dried and become the famous raisins. Grapes are rich in vitamins C and K, antioxidants and even have anticancer effects, thereby contributing a great deal to the Cretan Healthy Life.
Although not strictly a fruit (carob is scientifically a type of pea as it is virtually a pod and therefore classed as legume), carob is found in abundance on the island of Crete. In the past, when people were much poorer were using carobs as alternatives to chocolate (which was an expensive product for that time. Nobody knew at that time that carob would evolve as a great healthy replacement to coffee and chocolate. It has a sweet taste and contains a lot of calcium, fiber and antioxidants. In the past Cretan children used to consume loads of it. Carobs have always been used as animal food, especially pig food; this is one of the main reasons that Crete produces top quality pork meat. Nowadays Crete apart from producing loads of raw carobs, it produces and exports a lot of carob related products, such as carob coffee, flour (used a lot in Cretan baking) and honey that are proven to have great health benefits. The consumption of carobs has greatly contributed to the good health of older generations and fortunately the carob culture has revived to support the good health of the Cretan generations to come.
Crete is not a tropical island. However it was a warm and mild climate and it has areas (especially to the south of the island) whose climate resembles that of a tropical place. For example the great Messara plain in the south of Crete is so warm all year round that migratory birds do not migrate. It is therefore not surprising that some tropical fruits really thrive on the island. A characteristic example is the Cretan banana, a smaller and extremely aromatic and tasty type of banana that grows on the island, especially the south eastern part of it. Nowadays Cretans consume good quantities of bananas. Bananas are great sources of fiber, potassium and vitamins and are classed are health boosters.
Another example of a tropical fruit widely cultivated and consumed in Crete is the avocado, full of monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, folate and potassium (more than bananas). Avocados are therefore great health boosters and are successfully grown around the island and have become a great part of the Cretan diet; they are eaten in salads and as spreads.
Apart from avocados and bananas Cretans have started growing other tropical fruits on the island such as mangos, cherimoyas and guavas. These are not widely cultivated but the existing plants provide promising results.
It is natural in an island with so extraordinary fruit production to use some means to preserve them as it is impossible to consume them all fresh. It is therefore very common to dry fruits out by suitably exposing them to the sun, such as grapes (becoming raisins), plums, apricots and figs and consume them in this delicious form all year round. Such delicacies are consumed as accompaniments to coffee, together with breakfast or as offerings to guests (“kerasmata”). All dried fruits are packed with fiber, minerals and vitamins and assist the digestive system. Of course they contain significant amounts of plant sugar, so they are quite high in calories. If they are consumed in moderation, which is the case in Crete, have very beneficial health effects.