One of the recurrent themes in the discourse about the Greek crisis is the country’s lack of a broad export base—or so the various prophets of economic doom would have it: “What does Greece export except fruit, yoghurt, ouzo and oil?”, the unspoken corollary being that the country’s economy is hopelessly dependent on tourism and agricultural products and has very little hope of ever climbing out of the deep recession it has been in the for the last five years.
The truth is, food and beverages accounted for only 11% of the value of Greek exports in 2011 (link in Greek). Energy and petroleum-based products accounted for slightly more than a third of exports, building materials another 12.5%. Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics—yes, cosmetics—accounted for 4%.
Among these products is the lovely series of shower gels by Red Water Laboratories, (BNeF Benefit Hellas S.A.). The series uses natural plant extracts, oils and mineral-rich thermal spring water from Loutrochori, a village in Pella in Eastern Macedonia that was renowned in antiquity for its spa. I have no idea how or if thermal spring water rejuvenates the skin (not that it was a concern of mine), but the gels foam very nicely and smell good, with refreshing country scents of cedar, sage or rosemary, depending on the gel. Red Line products are also free of GMOs, silicone, petroleum derivatives, parabens and propylene glycol, and the olive oil used in the moisturizing gel comes from organically cultivated olive trees.
Incidentally, the company also produces a DEET-free natural insect repellent that actually doesn’t smell half-bad, the citronella oil being balanced with notes of eucalyptus, basil, cinnamon and mint.
It takes a good measure of entrepreneurial self-confidence and willingness to take risks to name your product with a play on the one quality that might deter some of your customers from buying it. I’m not much of a fan of Jordan almonds given out as wedding favors and (at least in Greece) at christenings, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll crack a tooth on the hard coating. Same thing goes for the tiny silver balls on Christmas-tree cookies and other sugar-panned confectionary products used in food decoration. And here I’m supposed to eat pebbles?
But I make an exception for these fruit and nut-filled dragées, a relatively new product for the 60-year-old Hatziyiannakis company (which by the way is one of a handful of companies in the list of “The Strongest Companies in Greece”, an index of creditworthiness produced by the ICAP Business Services Group.)
I’m not sure what delights me more in these edible pebbles: the clever branding, the award-winning, honest packaging, or the sweet itself. The dragées are an interesting take on the traditional sugared almond. In fact, none contain almonds at all. The Milos pebble has a persipan filling, a marzipan-like paste made from apricot kernels, the one from Kerkyra is filled with a kumquat from the island itself. Others have centers of sweet-preserverd amarena cherries or walnuts. Some are also dipped in dark chocolate before being encased in a thin coating of sugar.
These bags of sugar-coated goodies are perhaps more than an indulgence. In the award-winning packaging by mousegraphics (more on this firm in a future post), they are an elegant transmutation of the little bag of sea-washed pebbles we bring back from a walk on the beach.
It’s a brilliant instantiation of summer, a souvenir not of a particular vacation but of all the times we have spent walking along the sea. And what’s more Greek than pebbles from islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas?
Olives are one of the most traditional of Greek products but these are a particularly innovative manifestation: a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product of organic agriculture that breaks with tradition, or at least with what most of us have come to associate with olives.
These marvelous olives from the northern Aegean island of Thasos are minimally processed (no pasteurization) and contain only a small amount of salt (1.78% by weight), so you actually have the sense that you are eating a fruit and not a nugget of compacted brine. The young (established 2001) company Velouitinos takes its commitment to organic agriculture very seriously. You can even use the company website to trace your olives back to the grove they were gathered from.
Available online at the Olive Shop and in Athens at the Mediterranean Food Store (Το Παντοπωλείο της Μεσογειακής Διατροφής), Sofokleous 1 (210 3628738)