Sumac falls under the sweet-sour acid flavor group. The name "sumac" is derived from the Aramaic word summaq, meaning “red.” Sumac was widely used in the Middle East before the Romans introduced lemon. Today, in many Middle Eastern dishes, its used as a souring agent. To these cuisines, sumac is the equivalent of lemon to Western cuisines and tamarind to Indian cuisine.
Health Benefits: Sumac is hailed as a new super food for its high antioxidants compounds and its possible ability to lower cholesterol.
Method of cultivation: Sumac is a deciduous shrub in the cashew family. It grows in uplands and on rocky mountains in temperature and subtropical regions. In late summer, just before the fruits fully ripened, the branches are dried in the sun. The berries are then rubbed off.
Commercial Preparation: Berries are cleaned and maybe brined for several days before grinding. Further drying may be needed after grinding.
Creativity In the Kitchen
Sumac less sour than lemon has a sharp, acidic taste, reminiscent of lemon balm, and a spicy, earthy woody aroma. It can be used in any dish that calls for lemon zest or lemon juice, or as a seasoning added like salt.
Ground Sumac is not highly scented, so a lack of aroma needs is not a sign of poor quality. Much like salt, sumac brings out the flavor of the food, plus it adds a beautiful color and a fresh tartness. For maximum impact, sprinkle sumac as a garnish over a finished dish rather than at the start of cooking. Sumac is commonly used in dressings and marinades but also works well in dry rubs too.
- Root vegetable: Sprinkle ground sumac over roasted root vegetables. Good alternative to ketchup on fries potatoes.
- Tomatoes: Garnish sliced ripe tomatoes with sumac and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
- Chickpeas: Sprinkle over hummus or fried chickpeas, or use in falafel.
- Meat: Use sumac to garnish grilled or roast chicken or quail, with oil as a marinade for beef, or lamb kofte.
- Fish: Sprinkle sumac over spicy baked fish
- Yogurt and cheeses: Scatter sumac over a whipped feta and tahini dip, baked feta, or fresh labneh with herbs, or over grilled halloumi.
- Onions: Neutralizes the bitter flavor of raw onions in a salad
Spices that Pairs well with Sumac
- Coriander contributes harmonizing lemon and shared floral notes
- Nutmeg used sparingly brings warm earthy spiciness
- Cinnamon bring warming sweetness and accentuate floral notes
- Anise balances with sweet licorice and adds nuances of cherry, creamy vanilla and cocoa
- Allspice adds sweet peppery warmth
- Cardamom brings strong eucalyptus notes and adds aromatic depth to sumac’s citrus sourness
- Vanilla adds rich mellow creaminess and subtle cherry notes
- Fresh Ginger’s sweet lemony flavors complement sumac’s citrus sourness, while developing a subtle underlying spiciness
Sumac Tahini Dressing on AvocadoThis avocado snack is a quick energizer. The tartness of the lemon and sumac complements the sweetness of the honey and cuts through the richness of the sesame tahini and avocado.
Serves: 2 | Prep time: 5 minutes
How to make…
- In a small bowl, whisk together: 1 heaping Tablespoon of tahini, juice of 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon of honey, and ½ teaspoon of sumac
- Add 1 Tablespoon of boiling water and 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil while whisking until a thin emulsion form.
- Season with salt
- Drizzle the dressing over 1 halved avocado.
- Sprinkle with additional dash of sumac and serve.