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Elena Paravantes RD Headshot

Mediterranean Diet the Focus of Greek Food Startups

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MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Shutterstock / Preto Perola

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One of the "good" things that may have come from this economic crisis here in Greece is that it has spurred a creativity boost among the young. More and more Greeks are looking to start their own business. This comes as no surprise considering that the unemployment rate among young Greeks has reached 57 percent according to the latest Eurostat figures.

At this time Greece has two things going for them: high availability of scientists and engineers (Greece was ranked fifth according to the Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum) and ... food. Environmentally but also historically Greece is not only known for high quality products such as olive oil which is known for its fruity and robust flavor but also its high polyphenol content, but also because the traditional Greek diet and in particular the Cretan diet was the prototype of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. The foods that make up this diet are all produced in Greece.

Combine all these factors and what do you get? Greek food startups that not only have the potential of making money, but of promoting the traditional Greek diet and its special relationship with the Mediterranean diet, which for so many years Greece has failed to do.

Gaea, one of the most successful Greek companies that produces and exports Greek olive oil and other traditional Greek products organized an initiative called Re-Inspire Greece, to inspire Greek youth to start their own companies. The initiative offered the opportunity to young Greeks to present their idea and business plan in the agro-business sector. Awards of 50,000 Euros capital and soft loans were provided to 8 food startups along with support from various organizations such as The American Farm School of Thessaloniki.

During the final event, which included beanbags as seating, loud music and aerial acrobatic shows, contestants had to present their idea on stage to the judges. Most of the concepts were based on promoting and exporting Greek ingredients that have been part of the Mediterranean diet for years, rather than gimmicky products, which have nothing to do with Greek culture.

Sharing the first place position was Family Farm, a company packaging and exporting what they call "occupation" foods: rice and beans. Though these foods may have once been associated with the occupation of Greece during World War II, today they are prized particularly as they are produced in Northern Greece, an area known for the production of high quality legumes.

The other first place winner is a company called Radiki. Radiki in Greek means dandelion, a common leafy green in the Greek diet. Radiki's goal is to dry Greek wild greens package them and export them all over the world.

Both these companies are basically exporting key components of the Greek-Mediterranean diet. The antioxidant rich beans are a common dish in the traditional Greek diet as Greeks consumed them a source of protein not only because they could not afford meat, but because Greeks fasted from animal products for religious reasons for almost 200 days a year.

Wild greens are what one may call the secret of the Greek diet as they are rich in antioxidants but also omega-3 fatty acids and are consumed in a variety of ways in Greece, most commonly gently boiled and served with olive oil and lemon.

Other winners included Golden Black, a company specializing in the Corinthian currant, a type of black raisin that is produced mainly in Greece and has an intense flavor and high phenolic content that may protect from cancer and aid in the management of diabetes according to recent studies. This company dries the grapes in the shade rather than directly in the sunlight resulting in a richer and fuller flavor. The company Daphnis & Cloe presented their simple and elegant concept of packaging Greek herbs such as oregano and exporting in several countries. Other winners included Creative Bees, a group of Cretan beekeepers producing Cretan honey but also other traditional Cretan honey products and Demetra Pies, another startup composed of young Greek engineers who want to export authentic Greek pies in the US.

If you look beyond all the packaging, business plans and awards what you see are young people embracing the humble ingredients of their traditional diet, which is slowly fading. Those very ingredients: olive oil, wild greens, beans, raisins and herbs, provided sustenance for Greeks in difficult times during wars and occupations, and may very well come to the rescue once again.

For more information the Greek and Mediterranean Diet and Greek recipes visit olivetomato.com

*The author has no affiliation with the above organizations and companies.