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Cretan Diet

Cretan Diet is universally known as an ideal nutritional system safeguarding health and longevity. Apart from being a shield of protection, it is also an important cultural heritage comprising all stages of production and consumption of food.


Cretan Diet is universally known as an ideal nutritional system safeguarding health and longevity. However, its value as an intangible cultural asset that has retained its principal characteristics for many centuries is not equally known. Its older history has been documented by archaeological evidence and through literary sources, while the more recent has been described sufficiently in ethnographic researches, in travellers' texts and in other sources. The term Cretan Diet features a number of practices and customs associated with the gathering, exploitation and consumption of food. In more details: 1. Food gathering practices. Cretans obtain almost all raw food materials from nature. They consume dozens of different kinds of the indigenous wild plants, which they are familiar with through oral tradition. Some of them are eaten raw (as salads or as accompaniments to local alcohol drinks) and others are consumed cooked. 2. Gastronomic exploitation. Traditional Cretan gastronomy is based on deep acquaintance with the qualities of the ingredients, which retain their identity so that all flavours come together harmoniously in the dish. Wild plants are inventively combined with animal food products, such as snails, fish and meat from young animals. Besides, meat consumption in the traditional diet of the Cretans was rare, mostly on feast days. 3. Food consumption - eating customs. Gathering around the dining table is the most vital aspect of family life and social coherence in Crete. All religious holidays and social events include special festive or traditional meals, as well as a full range of recreational activities, such as dancing and singing. Among the best known traditional Cretan songs are the 'table songs' which constitute only a slight indication of the general cultural operations taking place at the table.


As a widely spread cultural asset it has no particular manager. There are only organizations and cultural associations protecting and promoting it, such as the Greek Academy of Taste. The small and large-scale gastronomic enterprises which operate today offering local cuisine are self-managed.


The Cretan Diet affects rural societies at a cultural, social and economic level. In more details: 1. Social impacts. In everyday life the dining table is the place which brings the whole family together. In addition, larger groups of people gather around a common table, including the wider family, the guests to a social event or the participants of a fair. 2. Cultural impacts. Diet helps people keep up tradition and propagate the cultural values. In rural societies the younger members are taught how to gather wild edible plants. In the same way they are initiated in other traditional cultural activities, such as food and wine banquets, joke telling, songs, music and other activities which accompany a Cretan meal. 3. Economic impacts: The traditional diet contributes to the maintenance of productive crops and inspires the development of new farming varieties. A number of the popular wild aromatic plants are cultivated and available in the market today (e.g. spine chicory or Common Golden Thistle [Scolymus hispanicus]). These impacts have a regional character, since the nutritional system presents common features throughout the whole island. Besides, it gives popularity at a national level due to the worldwide publicity of the Cretan Diet. The Seven Countries Study, which showed that during the 1960’s cardiovascular and malignant diseases were rare in Crete, is famous throughout the world.

Potential usability

As a cultural value, the Cretan Diet can be a pivot of development for all economy sectors, from the primary to the sector of service industry. It can be further developed and support the growing of quality products which can be supplied to the market either in fresh or processed form. Systematic cultivation has already been organized supplying vegetables, fruit, olive oil, wine and other products to both the domestic and the global market, using the popularity of the Cretan Diet as a promotion vehicle. Farming products and culinary experience are already used in small enterprises of local products, such as the Cretan rusks, sweets, cheese and others. The international fame of the wholesome Cretan Diet can contribute decisively to the development of alternative forms of tourism, including gastronomic tourism, agrotourism and health tourism. In rural areas activities can be undertaken for the initiation in the traditional way of life; lessons on Cretan cooking and the nutritional qualities of the edible wild plants can also be organized. People from the farming population can teach the gathering of edible plants as well as their use in cooking. Today there are hotels and restaurants offering Cretan cuisine, yet the possibilities for further development are unlimited.

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