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)
- Soufleros EH, Natskoulis P, and AS Mygdalia. Discrimination and risk assessment due to volatile compounds and the inorganic elements present in the greek marc distillates tsipouro and tsikoudia. J Int Sci Vigne Vin 2005; 39(1): 31-45
- Παούρη Μ. Τεχνοοικονομική ανάλυση, παρούσα κατάσταση και προοπτικές της Ελληνικής ποτοποιίας (Τσίπουρο – Ηδύποτα). ΑΕΙ Πειραιά ΤΤ (Πτυχιακή εργασία) Ιούλιος 2016.
- Mukamal KJ, Maclure M, Muller JE, Sherwood JB, Mittleman MA. Prior alcohol consumption and mortality following acute myocardial infarction. JAMA. 2001; 285:1965–70
- Booyse FM, Pan W, Grenett HE, et al. Mechanism by which alcohol and wine polyphenols affect coronary heart disease risk. Ann Epidemiol. 2007; 17:S24–31.
- Koppes LL, Dekker JM, Hendriks HF, Bouter LM, Heine RJ. Moderate alcohol consumption lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta–analysis of prospective observational studies. Diabetes Care. 2005; 28:719–25.
- Muntwyler J, Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Gaziano JM. Mortality and light to moderate alcohol consumption after myocardial infarction. Lancet. 1998; 352:1882–85.
- Grodstein F, Colditz GA, Hunter DJ, Manson JE, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ. A prospective study of symptomatic gallstones in women: relation with oral contraceptives and other risk factors. Obstet Gynecol. 1994; 84:207–14.
- Leitzmann MF, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ, et al. Prospective study of alcohol consumption patterns in relation to symptomatic gallstone disease in men. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1999; 23:835–41.
- Conigrave KM, Hu BF, Camargo CA, Jr., Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Rimm EB. A prospective study of drinking patterns in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes among men. Diabetes. 2001; 50:2390–95.
- Djousse L, Biggs ML, Mukamal KJ, Siscovick DS. Alcohol consumption and type 2 diabetes among older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Obesity. (Silver Spring) 2007; 15:1758–65.
- Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Mukamal KJ, Conigrave KM, Mittleman MA, et al. Roles of drinking pattern and type of alcohol consumed in coronary heart disease in men. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348:109–18.
- Tolstrup J, Jensen MK, Tjonneland A, Overvad K, Mukamal KJ, Gronbaek M. Prospective study of alcohol drinking patterns and coronary heart disease in women and men. BMJ. 2006; 332:1244–8.
- Shojaii A, Abdollahi Fard M. Review of Pharmacological Properties and Chemical Constituents of Pimpinella anisum . ISRN Pharmaceutics. 2012; 2012:510795. doi:10.5402/2012/510795.
- Tabanca N, Ma G, Pasco DS, Bedir E, Kirimer N, Baser KH, Khan IA, Khan SI. Effect of essential oils and isolated compounds from Pimpinella species on NF-kappaB: a target for antiinflammatory therapy.Phytother Res. 2007 Aug; 21(8):741-5.
- Albert-Puleo M. Fennel and anise as estrogenic agents. J Ethnopharmacol. 1980 Dec;2(4):337-44.
- Massimiliano T, Vigilio B, Simona B, Renato B, Mariannina I, Elisabetta B. Protective effect of Foeniculum vulgare essential oil and anethole in an experimental model of thrombosis. Pharmacol Res. 2007; 56(3):254-60.
- Zhang SM, Willett WC, Selhub J, et al. Plasma folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, homocysteine, and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003; 95:373–80.
- Ciao Y, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL. Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns and risk of cancer: Results from two prospective US cohort studies. BMJ. 2015; 315.
- World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, D.C.: AICR, 2007.