Sumac is the Middle Eastern Spice You Need to Try Right Now

The tart, bright, Middle Eastern spice missing from your collection.

Sumac is the spice missing from your pantry. You may have heard of it in relation to another spice used widely in Israel and the Middle East: za’atar. Sumac is often mixed in with the hyssop, sesame seeds, and salt to create the za’atar blend, but it’s even more tasty when eaten alone. 

Sumac tends to be a deep brick red color — the name is derived from the Arabic summãq, meaning red — sometimes verging on purple. It’s made by grinding the dried fruits of the sumac bush, which is native to the Middle East, into a coarse powder. These berries are incredibly good for you: They have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and are chock full of vitamin C.

The vitamin C gives sumac berries their signature tart, slightly astringent, lemony flavor. In fact, until the Romans introduced lemons to Europe, sumac was used to add brightness and zing to food. 

You might have heard that sumac is poisonous, but have no fear! There are lots of different varieties — bushes with white berries (that typically grow in marshy or swampy areas) are unfit for consumption. The sumac used for culinary purposes is a completely different tree.

In the Middle East, the dried sumac is often mixed with salt in order to preserve it, but you can also buy sumac without added salt — I love New York Shuk’s version (available online), which is 100% ground berries. Just make sure to store it in an airtight container away from any heat or light. 

Sumac is incredibly versatile. It works well as a rub for meat, adds a zing to any dressing, and (I think best of all) a liberal sprinkling is often the perfect finishing touch to salads, dips — actually, to most savory dishes.

These are some of my favorite sumac recipes on The Nosher:

Sumac Chicken and Rice — truly a winner winner chicken dinner!

Schnitzel and Sumac Slaw Sandwich — guaranteed to induce lunch envy among your colleagues.

Sumac-Lime Tortilla Chips With Labne AKA the best game day snack you will ever make.

Pomegranate Roasted Carrots With Sumac — the secret to taking your side dishes up a notch. 

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