Tsipouro and Tsikoudia : treasures of the Greek land

Tsipouro and Tsikoudia : treasures of the Greek land
Tsipouro and tsikoudia distillates have long history, starting in ancient times according to Isiodos (7th century BC), Hippocrates and Aristotle (5th and 4th century BC, respectively) and in Egypt during Hellenistic (Alexandrian) years.
Their distillation process was further developed during Byzantine years by Greek monks on Mount Athos, Constantinople, and Smyrna.

Qualified by geographical indication

Tsipouro is produced in continental Greece from different grape varieties along with seeds of aromatic plants (e.g. Pimpinella anisum, Foeniculum vulgare), whereas tsikoudia is produced in Crete (R. 1576/89, according to European legislation) without adding aromatic plants. Similar distillates are also produced from mulberry tree fruits and koumaro (Arbutus unedo fruits).

According to European and National legislation these marc distillates, when produced by professional distillers, can be qualified by geographical indication. Thus, we have tsipouro from Macedonia, Thessaly and Tyrnavos, and tsikoudia from Crete.

What are they made of?

Both distillates are made of a pomade of white and red grape varieties, which is vinificated without pressing, containing an amount of 30-40% wine. The fermentation process may last 2-4 weeks, depending on the vinification process, and takes place in barrels of 500-1000 litres (1).

What do they contain?

In a chemical analysis of Soufleros et al., it is shown that both tsipouro and tsikoudia contain among other substances, alcohols (ethanol, methanol, 1-butanol, methylpropanol, hexanol etc), esters (ethyl caproate, ethyl lactate, ethyl acetate, diethyl succinate, ethyl myristate etc), anise compounds (anethole, anisaldeyde, estragol, and eugenol), acids (butanoic acid, valeric acid, decanoic acid, octanoic acid, dodecanoic acid, hexanoic acid etc), and metals (iron, calcium, copper, and lead).

What’s the difference between them?

As it was proven, tsipouro has usually higher ethanol (or alcohol) content than tsikoudia (1, 2). On the other hand, tsikoudia contains higher amounts of methanol and acetaldehyde without exceeding allowable limits as described in European legislation (Reg. 1576/89) (1). Anise compounds are found mainly in tsipouro; the latter contains less iron and copper, but higher amounts of lead than tsikoudia (1). In any case, copper and lead amounts, that may exert toxic effects, range within allowable limits.

In moderation, both of them are beneficial

It is highly proven that moderate alcohol consumption exerts cardioprotective effects. Specifically, alcohol induces vascular dilation, and lowers arterial blood pressure (3); it improves HDL cholesterol levels in blood (4), and modifies factors affecting clot formation (fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, coagulation factor VII etc.) (4), as well as increasing insulin sensitivity (5). As a result, moderate alcohol intake correlates with a decrease in cardiac arrest incidences, strokes, and deaths by coronary heart disease (6). It also eliminates gallstone formation (7, 8), and type 2 diabetes development (9, 10).

Keep in mind that the recommended alcohol consumption is one portion per day for men and half of it for women (11). Regarding tsipouro and tsikoudia, a portion of alcohol equal to one shot (~40ml).

What matters most though is the frequency of alcohol drinking, rather than the amount consumed, provided that we drink in moderation. Having 7 drinks in a Saturday night, is not the same as drinking a portion per day. Even though the weekly amount is the same, it has not the same effect on your liver and health (12). Moreover, drinking alcohol for at least 3 to 4 days a week correlates with significant decrease of cardiovascular infarct risk (12, 13).

Wherever added, anise seeds may improve digestion, as well as decrease menopause flushes (14). They also exert anti-inflammatory (15), antimicrobial (14), and antiviral effects (14); that’s why they may be of use in ameliorating arthritis aches. Anise seeds are also reported to enhance libido (16). Anethole of anise seeds appears to reduce stomach ache induced by alcohol (over)consumption (17), whereas it may enhance appetite.

But if you overindulge yourself

On the other hand, we do know that alcohol prevents absorption of folate – which takes part in DNA formation (18). This may be the reason that ethanol overconsumption increases the risk of both breast and colon cancer (19). However, folate supplementation may counterbalance this increase in cancer risk (18, 19).

People consuming significant amounts of tsipouro and tsikoudia may suffer from liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), which can lead to fatal cirrhosis. Alcohol overconsumption is highly proven to increase blood pressure and induce myocardial damage (cardiomyopathy), whereas it correlates with cancer of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, and colon (20). This risk is higher for alcohol drinkers who smoke tobacco, at the same time.

By George Milessis, Clinical dietitian and nutrition ambassador of MyGreekhear (www.milessis.gr)


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  2. Παούρη Μ. Τεχνοοικονομική ανάλυση, παρούσα κατάσταση και προοπτικές της Ελληνικής ποτοποιίας (Τσίπουρο – Ηδύποτα). ΑΕΙ Πειραιά ΤΤ (Πτυχιακή εργασία) Ιούλιος 2016.
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