Petimezi (pure thick concentrated grape juice, must, or molasses) is a natural sweetener made of grape juice only, without any preservatives. Known in ancient Greek cuisine as epsima (the name it is still called by in Cyprus today), petimezi is first referred to by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, in the 5th century BC. Aristophanes, the Athenian playwright, also refers to petimezi. It is one of the world’s oldest 100% natural sweeteners, which needs no refrigeration and keeps forever.
Petimezi, a thick and dark syrup (the depth of the color is determined by the type of grapes used), is produced after the grape harvest, usually in late August/September by boiling fresh unfermented grape juice with no added sugar or flavorings for hours. The boiling is in enormous vats as a huge amount of grape juice is needed to produce a small quantity of grape concentrate.
In small businesses, all the family members give a helping hand, taking their turn at stirring this amazing aromatic potion for an hour or two. The whole process to produce authentic traditional petimezi takes three whole days. Boiling, skimming off the froth, more boiling, more skimming, leaving to stand for hours, the addition of clean wood ash or a special white earth to bring out the impurities, and yet more boiling and stirring. As they say in Greece; done with meraki – passion and lots of love!
Petimezi when produced in the traditional process is expensive in comparison with other artificial sweeteners, mainly because of the great quantities of grape juice required to produce the end product. It takes more than 50 pounds (24kg) of grapes to produce one liter of grape-based petimezi.
Petimezi is one of the world’s oldest and healthiest sweetener, rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, B, and C, minerals, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. It has many uses in Greek and Mediterranean cuisines, including to flavor mustokouloura (grape must dark cookies with gingery flavor) seen in all bakeries and patisseries at the time of the grape harvest and mustalevria (grape must pudding made with flour) served in small dishes topped with chopped pistachio nuts. It is delicious when drizzled over ice cream or thick creamy Greek yogurt. Alone or mixed with a little wine vinegar it makes a delicious salad dressing and adds an extra burst of flavor when added to soups, stews, and casseroles. When accompanying roast meat it gives it that extra little something.
Petimezi as old as the vine has been known since ancient times to work wonders for coughs and colds. Taken in a shot glass every morning or diluted in a glass of water will give you energy.