Everything You Need to Know About the Cretan Diet!

The Cretan Diet

There are many reasons to fall in love with Crete. But none so significant and universal as the Cretan Diet. No matter your taste and preferences, the local cuisine will fascinate you.

Healthy, delicious, and easy to make, the food is the island’s highlight. Sounds interesting? Keep reading to get a taste of the Cretan Diet! 

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The Cretan Diet: It’s All About Getting Back to Basics

the cretan diet
Orange trees in Fodele, Crete.

Since time immemorial, Cretans have eaten only what their land produced.

Thankfully, the local climate favors the natural growth of various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other ingredients. As a result, Cretans have found solace in simple dishes with minimum processing.

One of Cretan cuisine’s main advantages is its simplicity. Even if you use fewer spices and aromatics, the pure flavor and distinctiveness of the elements remain. And when you have such good raw materials, it makes sense to let them shine on their own.

Cretan gastronomy is also known for its flexibility and creativity. Households may have wild greens for lunch and evening, but the two meals may look nothing alike.

Cretan people’s resourcefulness translates to their cooking. There are hundreds of ways if not more, to cook a set of wild greens, beans, or any other raw ingredient.

The Cretan Diet Comes with Significant Health Benefits

the cretan diet
Simple ingredients are at the core of Cretan gastronomy.

The main reason Cretan food has become known worldwide is its health benefits. Although it is also scientifically proven with various medical studies, you only have to look at the lifestyle of the locals to notice the many benefits of the Cretan diet.

Traditionally, people on the island live a simple yet very active life. They wake up early, go to the fields, work hard, visit their families, and spend time with friends.

If it were not for the food in Crete, locals would not be able to sustain that level of activity in their lives. Although less common today, this lifestyle still exists in small and remote villages.

And if you ever doubt that, you only have to look at the thousands of published scientific papers that study the effects of the Cretan diet.

Although the list is endless, two of the most known health benefits include the scarcity of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The Cretan Diet is the Backbone of the Mediterranean Diet

the cretan diet
Seasonal ingredients.

Cretans often do not like to hear about the “Mediterranean” diet and instead talk only about their “Cretan” cuisine.

Yet, Crete is part of the Mediterranean Sea and has developed a distinctive diet that shares several elements with many neighboring cuisines.

The Mediterranean diet generally comes from the traditional cuisines of Greece, Turkey, and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

The foundation of the diet includes plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. The Cretan diet could very well be defined similarly. 

However, using the broader term “Mediterranean” does not capture the distinctive features of Cretan cuisine.

Although the two may be similar, there has traditionally been only one diet on the island: the Cretan diet.

The Cretan Diet is a Unique Cuisine (similar to but not the same as Greek cuisine)

the cretan diet
Hearty winter stews.

Just like with the Mediterranean term, there might also be confusion between the Cretan and Greek diets. A similar story applies here, too.

The dietary pattern of Greeks has historically included a high intake of fruits, wild plants, olives, nuts, and cereals. It is not too different from Cretans, who identify as Greeks after all!

But, on what exactly does the Cretan diet differ from the Greek diet? Because Greek regions share a similar climate, they have the same access to unprocessed ingredients.

However, from place to place, every population can create different plates from the same elements.

For example, Crete is famous for its many unique dishes. Think of Dakos, fried snails, Cretan salad, or Kalitsounia pies, not to mention the hundreds of local varieties of cheese.

In addition, Cretans, primarily those who follow the traditional way of life, consume meat-based products for less than a third of the year.

Its Beauty Lies in the Raw Ingredients

Cretan Diet
Olives are a key ingredient in Crete.

The deep taste and aromas of Cretan food lie in the freshness and quality of the main ingredients. Perhaps no element is more known than Cretan olive oil.

Cretes use olive oil in almost any recipe, often even in desserts. It is no coincidence the entire island is a vast olive grove with up to 40 million trees. 

Next to olive oil, greens and herbs are among every Cretan household’s most widely used ingredients.

More than 100 species of plants are identified, but no one knows exactly how many wild greens Crete has. And they grow everywhere, from the coastal zones to the higher mountain regions. 

The island is suitable for growing organic vegetables, fruits, and beans thanks to its mild climate. Yet, no matter how good Cretan food can be, a meal cannot be called Cretan if there is no glass of raki or wine on the table.

After all, the island houses some of the most prestigious vineyards in Greece and the world. 

In short, the Cretan diet is among the most well-known and healthy worldwide. Its beauty lies in simple aspects of life, such as food coming straight from the ground and everything with minimal processing. If you follow it, your body will thank you.

Essential Details About Crete and its Diet!

the cretan diet
Enjoy a meal by the sea in Crete!

Cretan recipes are out of this world. Yet, to experience Cretan food in its totality, you first have to learn a few things about Crete.

No single article or webpage is enough to tell you everything about Crete, but here are seven key points you need to know. Or the 7 Cretan Wonders, if you prefer. 

Crete History: A story of many millennia

Minoan Horns, Minoan Palace, Crete
Knossos Palace.

Did you know that the first civilization in Europe took form on the island of Crete?

Yes, of all the European places, Crete saw the rise of the Minoan civilization in 3000 BC. Its remains are still evident in the many archaeological museums and sites such as Knossos Palace.

Since the Minoans, the island has seen the development of many other ancient Greek tribes during the Iron and Classical Ages.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Ottomans, and Germans have occupied and left their marks on the island’s history. 

Crete Weather: Your best friend on the island

5 days in Agios Nikolaos Crete
Sunset in Agios Nikolaos, Lasithi.

Your weather app is useless in Crete. If you check the weather forecast before getting out, your time there can be a cultural shock.

The Mediterranean climate on the island means most of the year is always hot and sunny.

In short, out of all the spectacular things, your best ally in Crete will be the weather. It is so stable that you will forget how good it always is, at least during summer. Winter can be a different story, with a few cold and rainy days but still mild temperatures.

Crete Landscape: Nature at its best

Day trips from Heraklion Crete
The White Mountains.

Like any Mediterranean island, Crete is home to a rich landscape that will make you fall in love with the island. Would it be the trees along the coast, the tall mountains, or the endless valleys? No matter where you go on the island, the nature around you will seem like paradise.

Remember that the longest canyon in Europe is Samaria Gorge in west Crete—and this gorge is only one of many. In short, nature lovers will feel at home in Crete.

Crete Regions: There is something for everyone

10 days in Crete
Splantzia, in Chania, Crete.

There are mainly four regions in Crete. The standard tourist centers of Chania and Rethymno are on the West Crete, whereas the Lasithi region is the relatively underdeveloped eastern side of the island. 

In central Crete, Heraklion is the region home to the capital and administrative center of the island. Every region has thousands of attractions worth discovering. For example, even four months of travel would not be enough to give justice to all the beauty the island hides.

Crete Beaches: Just like the postcard and even better

Balos Beach, Crete, winter landscape
Balos Beach.

Of all the wonders of Crete, its beaches attract the most attention. And for a good reason. Crystal-clear waters, golden sand, and modern facilities create an idyllic setting to enjoy your time under the Greek sun. 

One of Crete’s most exotic sandy beaches is Balos Lagoon, famous for its Caribbean-like waters. Just as popular, the pink beach of Elafonisi is another must-visit in Crete. And if you also consider the hundreds of remote and hidden beaches around the island, you know your choices are limitless.

Crete Villages: The hidden beauty of the island

the cretan diet
Therisos.

While big towns like Chania and Heraklion will be your gateway to Crete, you must spend a few days in a Cretan village. There is no better way to embrace the Cretan vibes and see how fulfilling a simple life can be.

Among the many surprises you will encounter in a Cretan village, getting to know the locals is one of the things you’ll enjoy the most!

Although Cretan hospitality is evident everywhere on the island, permanent village residents are something else. Even if they don’t speak English, they will somehow make you fall in love with them.

Crete Food: The epitome of the Cretan lifestyle

Cretan food
A Cretan table.

You can never go wrong with Cretan food. Just pick a local tavern and order whatever your appetite desires. No matter your taste, you will love every single bite. That is the essence of Cretan cuisine. 

Olive oil is an indispensable ingredient in almost every Cretan dish, often called “Liquid Gold” on the island. Whether you are a meat lover, vegetarian, or vegan, you cannot but love Cretan cuisine!

You do not even have to be in Crete to enjoy it. You can bring Crete to your home if you find the right ingredients and have the right recipe.

the cretan diet
Seasonal greens.

Crete is full of wonders, and Cretan food is one of them. There is no better place to learn all about it than this blog. Now that you know a few things about Crete, you can understand why Cretan cuisine is among the best of its kind.

Everything in Crete is remarkable, including the food. The question is: Are you ready to explore the most amazing Cretan recipes?

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More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking out my guide to planning your trip to Crete, packed with helpful essential information. Explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and insider secrets. You can also get one of the digital travel guides I’ve written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.

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A Local’s Guide to the Cretan Diet!

Cretan diet

About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the island. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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