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Cretan Diet

Cretan Diet

Nutrition and Health

The close links of Crete with Europe are widely recognized, since Crete is the place where the continent received its name. In Greek mythology, lust-loving Zeus, in the guise of a white, winged bull carried off on his back the beautiful princess of Phoenicia, Europa, daughter of king Agenor, to the island of Crete where he fathered the progenitors of a magnificent civilization known as the Minoans.

One of the basic elements of this civilization has been nutrition, production methods and eating. The Cretans have developed their ancient nutritional habits with everything that the Cretan land so generously provides: olive oil, wheat, wine, honey,pulses, vegetables, mountain greens and aromatic plants, low fat cheese, meat and fish and of course, fruit, all forming the base of Cretan cuisine, which according to research over the last few years has proved to be healthy and of great nutritional value. You can taste this cuisine in the traditional tavernas and local restaurants

This civilization, forged on such values as hospitality, honesty, and dignity can, without exaggeration, be considered as a culture of health. For thousands of years now, the dietary habits of the inhabitants constitute an on-going, informal biological experiment, the results of which highlight the soundness of the Cretan diet, as it was formally recorded in the “Seven Countries Study” by Dr. Ancel Keys. The consumption of olive oil, wine, pulses, fruit, vegetables, honey and herb tea offers a unique privilege to Cretans. It endows them with a long, healthy life, with the lowest mortality rates in the world, in terms of heart diseases and cancer. Crete is proud of the fact that today, 5000 years after the rise of the Minoan civilization, it is in a position to offer humanity an excellent dietary prototype which, as scientific research has confirmed,greatly improves the quality and expectancy of life

Olive Oil

Olive oil forms a major part of the daily Cretan diet, the average annual consumption being over 35 litres per person, the highest in the world! Most families in Crete own some olive trees, not only to meet their daily needs, but often also providing a second income. Sitian olive oil has won international acclaim, receiving many awards for its excellent quality and superior taste. Most visitors will unfortunately not experience olive picking, as this takes place during the winter months, the whole family helping out.

Modern medicine confirms that Virgin Olive Oil is beneficial for one’s health and its consumption is recommended for many instances such as:

-Prevention of heart disease
-Lowering of blood sugar levels and blood pressure
-Prevention of certain types of cancer
-Prevention of prostate cancer
-Skin care (it regenerates skin cells, softens tissue and has anti-ageing properties)


Along the long and narrow body of the province of Sitia stretching from west to east, a high mountain range lays as a protective shield against the strong hot south winds blowing from the Libyan Sea.

Thus protected on the north side, overlooking the Cretan Sea, Sitia’s vineyards (part of the most traditional vineyards of Europe) begin from a height of 600 m. above sea level and stretch downhill towards the sea.

In an ancient co-existence with this natural environment, the local varieties of grapes endow the territory with a priceless richness of bio-diversity. The mild winter, combined with the long, hot, dry summer, the long periods of sunlight during the year and the cool breeze of the Cretan sea, ensure ideal conditions for the germination cycle of the vine. Thus it’s not strange that Sitia holds a 4000 year old tradition in winery and vine cultivation.Confirmation of this comes from the Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros where the oldest cultivated vineyard was found.

Indeed,wine production in the Sitia region has met great commercial success. The most notable periods were the Roman era when Sitia wine was transported to Rome and other Mediterranean destinations in well-sealed amphoras and during the Venetian presence in Crete (12th-16th century), when Cretan wine reached the zenith of its fame. Even today wine plays an important role as part of the Cretan diet, proven to be beneficial to health and longevity. Recent findings detected a great number of components in the local wine,which act as anti-oxidants in the human body.

The favorable soil and climatic conditions and the systematic cultivation of the area since the ancient times, produce excellent varieties of grapes from which the renowned Sitia wines originate. The most common varieties are those of Liatiko, Muscat, Myrodato, Dafnato, Asyrtiko, Roman, Mantilari, Kotsifali, Vilana, Plito, Athiri, Thapsathiri and many more from which local producers create Sitia’s wines, catering for all tastes.

Visitors in late August and September will witness the grape harvest and will more than likely be offered an armful! Many people still make wine in the traditional way by treading the grapes. The must left over is used to distil the local drink Raki. During October, the “Kazanemata”, (raki-making sessions) are held you may see them at the roadside. Visitors are always welcome and given a sample. It is quite an exceptional experience!

Traditional Cretan Food

Intestines of pork stuffed with rice, small pieces of liver and onion.

Fish soup, made from a variety of pieces of fish, cooked with onion and potatoes.

Dakos (baked and hardened bread), with olive oil, finely chopped tomatoes, oregano and feta.

The famous ‘cheese pies’, made from dough and filled with mizithra (local traditional cheese).

Artichokes with broad beans
Broad beans cooked in olive oil and water, with fresh artichokes, garlic, fennel leaves and salt.

Octopus in Vinegar
Cooked octopus,  served with olive oil and vinegar (or wine).

Chochli (snails) boumbouristi
Fried snails, with olive oil, tomatoes and vinegar.

Dolmades with vine leaves
Vine leaves, stuffed with rice, parsley, grated potato, onion, pepper, cumin.

Traditional Cretan Sweets

These are to be found at all weddings and christenings! They are made from a mixture of flour, olive oil and lemon juice, which is made into dough, rolled out thinly and fried. They are then dipped into honey and covered in sesame seeds.

Delicious small pastries, stuffed with raisins.

Small sweet pastry parcels, stuffed with mizythra (local soft cheese), sugar, honey, cinnamon, vanilla. These are to be found in every household at Easter!

Rural Life

Farmers make up a large part of the population in the area, growing olives, grapes, fruit and vegetables (some in greenhouses) and many keep goats, sheep and bees,while in Sitia and in the villages along the coast,you will find fishermen. You are sure to come across older members of the community, who still prefer to use traditional methods in their farming and use donkeys to get around!

Of course you will see modern farmers as well, with farm machinery, processing and packaging facilities which allow for the mass production and the standardization of rural products, demanded by the export market. In Sitia district the traditional and the modern ways co-exist harmoniously,not only in farming but in all aspects of life. A fine example of this is on the Chandras plateau, where old windmills are used to draw water for watering, while the modern wind generators produce electricity out of wind power. You can also see clusters of these generators, the so called wind parks, near the villages Achladia, Xerolimni and Palekastro. Due to these pioneer wind parks that have caught European attention, Crete was the first island in the world to have mild renewable energy sources. The rural landscape of Sitia district is marked by the predominance of the olive trees.

Plains, hills, valleys and mountainsides are all so similar, yet so different and are always covered with this blessed tree whilst every now and then we see vineyards, gardens and fruit-bearing trees, all adding to the appealing picture of the Sitian landscape.

Within the last few years in the district of Sitia around the area of the TOPLOU Monastery and elsewhere, the organic farming of olive trees and vines has been developed in an innovative way by individuals or groups of young farmers, supported by the LEADER programmes so that olive oils, wines, olives, olive paste, soap and vinegar of high quality have been produced and packed and can be found in local shops.

The olive tree and the vine not only give their blessed fruits but are firmly associated with the history, culture, traditions, art and the way of life in Sitia, the Mediterranean and in Europe.

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