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
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It’s All About Getting Back to Basics
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.
The simplicity of Cretan cuisine is one of its main advantages. After all, once you use fewer spices and aromatics, the pure flavor and distinctiveness of the elements remain.
And when you have such good raw material, it makes sense to let it shine on its 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.
The resourcefulness of the Cretan people 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 main reason why Cretan food has become known all over the world is no other than 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
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. That could very well be a definition of the Cretan diet as well.
However, using the broader term “Mediterranean” does not capture the distinctive features of Cretan cuisine.
The two may be similar, but there has traditionally been only one diet on the island. And that is the Cretan diet.
The Cretan Diet is a Unique Cuisine (similar to but not the same as Greek cuisine)
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
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 the Cretan food can be, you cannot call a meal 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 known and healthy worldwide. Its beauty lies in simple aspects of life, such as the food coming straight from the ground. And everything with minimal processing. It is a diet that, if you follow, your body will thank you.
Essential Details About Crete and its Diet!
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
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
Your weather app is no good in Crete. If you are the kind who checks the weather forecast before getting out, your time in Crete can come as 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
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 the many. In short, nature lovers will feel at home in Crete.
Crete Regions: There is something for everyone
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
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 in which 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 all around the island, you know your choices are limitless.
Crete Villages: The hidden beauty of the island
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 during your time in a Cretan village, you will love the locals 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
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.
And 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.
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, and so is the food. The question is: Are you ready to explore the most amazing Cretan recipes?
Read more about Cretan Food
- The Best Vegetarian Food in Crete That You Must Try on the Island
- Best Cretan and Greek Cookbooks to Prepare Authentic Dishes at Home
- Not Your Usual Greek Food Guide: What to Eat in Crete + 20 Authentic Local Dishes!
- What to Eat in Greece: 25 of the Best Dishes in Greek Gastronomy
ARE YOU PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO CRETE LAST MINUTE?
Be sure to book accommodation and tours in Crete ahead of time to ensure availability!
📍 Top tours in Crete:
– Full-day Samaria Gorge trek (#1 tour in Crete!)
– Boat cruise to Balos Lagoon & Gramvousa (another top-selling tour!)
– Boat Trip to Spinalonga with swim stop (most popular in Agios!)
– Ticket to Knossos Archaeological Site (top tour in Heraklion)
– Day trip to Elafonisi (a must in Chania!)
🛌 Top picks for places to stay in Crete:
– Lyttos Beach (top beachfront hotel in Hersonissos)
– SanSal Boutique Hotel (in Chania Old Town with a pool!)
– Grecotel Lux Me White Palace (the best resort in Rethymnon)
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About my blog:
I moved to Crete in 2016. During these years, I learned much about the island.
In Crete, I juggle being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours, and writing for several travel media.
I’ve written for Greek Reporter, published travel guides about Greece, co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete, and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.