Is Crete raki or ouzo?

Answered by Robert Golston

Is Crete raki or ouzo? This is a question that often comes up when discussing Greek , particularly those originating from the island of Crete. As an expert sommelier and brewer, I have had the opportunity to taste and study both raki and ouzo extensively, and I can tell you that they are distinct beverages with their own unique characteristics.

Let's start with raki. Raki is a traditional Greek spirit that is also popular in other Mediterranean countries such as Turkey and Cyprus. It is made from distilled grape pomace, which is the leftover skins, seeds, and stems from winemaking. The production process involves fermenting the pomace and then distilling it to create a clear, strong spirit. Raki has a smooth and slightly sweet taste, with floral and fruity notes. It is often enjoyed straight or with a splash of to enhance the flavors.

Ouzo, on the other hand, is a traditional Greek anise-flavored spirit that is primarily produced in Greece, with a focus on the island of Lesbos. Ouzo is made from distilled , which is then flavored with anise and other aromatic herbs and spices. The result is a clear, strong spirit with a distinct licorice flavor. Ouzo is typically enjoyed diluted with water, which causes it to turn milky white. This process, known as the “ouzo effect,” is due to the essential oils in the anise becoming soluble in water.

Now, let's delve into the characteristics of each spirit and explore their versatility when it comes to pairing with food.

Raki has a smooth and less intense flavor compared to ouzo, making it a more versatile spirit when it comes to food pairings. Its fruity and floral notes complement a wide range of dishes, from lighter appetizers to heartier main courses. For example, raki pairs beautifully with seafood dishes such as grilled octopus or shrimp, as its subtle sweetness and delicate flavors enhance the natural taste of the seafood. It also works well with Mediterranean-inspired salads, grilled vegetables, and creamy cheeses.

Ouzo, on the other hand, has a strong aniseed flavor that can be overwhelming if paired with overly sweet or rich dishes. Its licorice notes tend to dominate the palate, so it is best enjoyed with foods that can stand up to its intense flavor. Ouzo is a classic accompaniment to meze, the Greek version of tapas, which consists of small, flavorful dishes like tzatziki, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and feta cheese. It also pairs well with grilled meats, particularly lamb, as the strong flavors of the meat can hold their own against the boldness of ouzo.

In my personal experience, I have found that raki is a delightful companion to a meze spread, as its smoothness and subtle sweetness complement the variety of flavors and textures found in Greek appetizers. I have also enjoyed raki with grilled fish, finding that its fruity notes enhance the natural flavors of the seafood without overpowering them.

On the other hand, ouzo has been a go-to choice for me when indulging in a hearty Greek feast, especially when lamb is on the menu. The strong licorice flavor of ouzo adds depth and complexity to the rich flavors of the meat, creating a harmonious pairing that is truly satisfying.

Both raki and ouzo are traditional Greek spirits with their own unique characteristics. Raki is smooth, slightly sweet, and versatile, making it a great choice for a wide range of food pairings. Ouzo, on the other hand, has a strong aniseed flavor that is best enjoyed with dishes that can hold their own against its intensity. Whether you choose raki or ouzo, both spirits offer a taste of Greece and can enhance your dining experience in their own distinct ways.