Greek Rock Samphire (Kritamos)Ionian Islands in Brine 380g

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Quick Overview

Healthy: Rock Samphire (Kritamos)

There are a few food-related chores left to do here on Ikaria before taking off for Athens again, among them collecting and pickling kritama (pl.), or rock samphire, one of the most delicious edible plants on the island.Its colloquial Greek name, kritamo, comes from the ancient Greek word for barley, krithmon, because the seeds of both plants resemble one another.Rock samphire isn’t unique to Greece. Indeed, it grows wild along the coasts of the entire Mediterranean as well as in Britain and Ireland. Its English name comes from ”sampiere”, from the French “Saint Pierre” (Saint Peter), the patron saint of fishermen. The plant likes the sea and flourishes in rocky, salt-sprayed cliffs and along beaches. It is sometimes called sea asparagus, sea fennel, or sea pickle. The English have liked many varieties of samphire for eons. Typically, they pickle them – so do the Greeks. Samphire is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear: Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade! (Act IV, Scene VI). In the UK it is a dangerous business to collect this delicious plant.In Greece, it isn’t so dangerous! On Ikaria, it grows along the rocky backdrop on the main beach, Messakti, as well as all along the coast, indeed, sometimes in treacherous locales.Samphire is one of the healthiest greens. Its therapeutic values have been known since antiquity. Both Dioscorides, the father of pharmacology, and Pliny, renowned botanist, wrote about its properties. Hippocrates recommended it for its diuretic and detoxifying abilities. It is chock full of antioxidants and has use as such in cosmetics, too. It is said to brighten age spots and to lend a healthy glow to skin.It is rich in iodine and is packed with phytochemicals that protect the liver, heart and cellular DNA. It is also rich in vitamins A, C, B2, B15, amino acids, and minerals, such as iron, calcium and magnesium phosphorus, calcium, silica, zinc, manganese and vitamin D.There are several ways to “cure” samphire and many ways to enjoy it. I typically blanch it in generously salted water for a few minutes, drain and then steep in vinegar and salt for 24 hours. Then, I drain the leaves and preserve them in extra virgin olive oil. Kritama make for one of the best ouzo mezedes. I love to serve them with grilled fish, too.

Rock samphire (crithmum maritimum) is an edible, aromatic plant with a powerful scent, which “packs” a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants.

It grows wild in rock crevices, rocky shores and beaches along the Mediterranean and Black sea coasts, as well as along the European Atlantic coast.

History

Rock samphire’s appeal to the taste buds of wider populations has passed the test of time, as it was consumed consistently during different eras by very different coastal people – from Greeks, Romans and Celts to Turks, Catalans and Croats, and at times (16th century London) by urban populations as well.

Its availability and usage were always limited by its notoriously slow growth, which prevented its wider cultivation. Today its cultivation is feasible, thus making it available in larger quantities virtually all year long.

Flavor 

Rock samphire has a strong flavor and its main culinary use is as a taste enhancer, although it requires precise dosage due to its concentrated aromas.

In Greece it is collected and used both pickled and fresh in a variety of recipes; as a “meze” with ouzo or raki, as a taste enhancer in the Greek salad, or together with fish, shellfish, crustaceans, pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils) etc.

It is foraged from beaches and used in similar ways as a traditional and taste enhancing herb in coastal areas of other Mediterranean countries like Italy, Croatia, Catalonia, Turkey, France and occasionally in the UK, where it has been a protected plant since 1971. It’s typically known only by its local name in each particular island or area and considered a cherished heritage local product.

Visit our recipes blog to discover the many culinary uses of rock samphire.

Health Benefits

Rich in vitamin C, ω-3, ω-6 and antioxidants, rock samphire was consumed by sailors of old as protection against scurvy.

According to modern academic research:

  • 100g of rock samphire leaves per day meet the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C

  • Its leaves are also rich in several other compounds, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, while the oils extracted from them have high concentrations of fatty acids of the ω-3 and ω-6 series, which have beneficial effects against coronary heart diseases

  • It is also high in phenol content and ABTS radical scavenging activity

  • Rock samphire is also a valuable source of antioxidant products, especially chlorogenic acid

  • The acid used for the fabrication of Tamiflu (quinic acid), is naturally contained in rock samphire

Learn more about rock samphire, its rich history, as well as its wonderful properties in the special website we created for educational purposes kritamo.com.

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