The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cooking is olive oil, which is present in almost every dish. It is produced from the trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, eggplant/aubergine, potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly flower-honey from the nectar of fruit and citrus trees (lemon, orange, bigarade trees), thyme honey, and pine honey from conifer trees. Mastic is grown on the Aegean island of Chios.
Greek cuisine uses some flavourings more often than do other Mediterranean cuisines: oregano rigani, mint dhiosmo, garlic, onion, dill, salt, and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. Many Greek recipes use “sweet” spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon and cloves in stews. Greek flavour is often characterised by the use of mint and nutmeg. Other typical ingredients are lamb, pork, kalamata olives, feta cheese, grape leaves, zucchini and yogurt. Dessert items are dominated by nuts and honey.
The terrain has tended to favour the production of goats and sheep over cattle, and thus beef dishes tend to be a rarity by comparison. Fish dishes are also common, especially in coastal regions and the islands. A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including Feta, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Graviera, Anthotyros, Manouri, Metsovone and Mizithra. Some dishes use phyllo pastry.
Too much refinement is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine, though recent trends among Greek culinary circles tend to favour a somewhat more refined approach. Typical Greek food is simple, colorful and packed with robust flavours. Although many dishes show influences from the Greek past, they have a distinctive style of their own which has changed little over the years. Greek cuisine has a long tradition of fine cooking and the full range of Greek dishes usually remains undiscovered by the tourist.