Sumac! No, I'm not talking about the wild stuff growing in your backyard that once gave you an itchy rash. While it is related, the sumac I'm talking about is far from poisonous, and makes a wonderfully delicious addition to any spice cupboard.
What Is Sumac?
The sumac bush, native to the Middle East, produces deep red berries, which are dried and ground into coarse powder. While it's less common, the berries may also be sold whole. Ground sumac is a versatile spice with a tangy lemony flavor, although more balanced and less tart than lemon juice. A small sprinkle also adds a beautiful pop of color to any dish.
Sumac is one of the main components in the spice mix za'atar, and is used as a topping on fattoush salad.
The spice was long used in Europe to add tartness to many dishes until the Romans introduced lemons to the area.
Where to Find Sumac
Ground sumac is widely available in Middle Eastern markets, and little by little it's making its way into the spice aisle of grocery stores. You can also buy it online at spice shops such as Penzeys.
How To Use Sumac
Sumac is a widely used, essential spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It's used in everything from dry rubs, marinades, and dressing. But its best use is sprinkled over food before serving.
It's great over vegetables, grilled lamb, chicken and fish. Ground sumac also makes a nice, flavorful topping on dips like hummus.
Have you ever tried sumac? What's your favorite way to use it?
5 Easy Recipes with Sumac
Updated from a post originally published October 2008.
(Image credits: Oliver Wilde/Shutterstock; Emma Christensen)