What Is Sumac?
Sumac is the common name for genus Rhus which contains over 250 flowering plants. Sumac, the spice is actually not a spice; it is dried and ground berries of the shrub, Rhus coriaria, which grows around the Mediterranean.
Sumac comes from the Aramaic word “summaq”, which means red. It used to be solely associated with Middle Eastern and North Africa cuisine as condiment or spice, but people are gradually becoming aware of it in the West, and it is now widely available in grocery stores.
Other species of sumac grow in the United states, where they are ornamental plants. The berries have also been used to make lemonade; and most of the plant species have been used as herbal remedy for medicinal purposes. For the purpose of this article; we will only consider the spice Rhus coriaria.
Sumac is an ancient spice, and it was used to add tartness to dishes by the Romans before lemon was introduced into the area. The flavour profile of sumac is sour, fruity and slightly aromatic. It has the advantage of being pleasantly astringent but not too sharp. Due to its bright red colour, sumac is sometimes used to brighten spice mixes and rubs.
Sometimes salt is added to sumac powder to prevent clumping; watch out for this when you are buying the spice. Sumac will keep for several months in an air-tight jar
How To Use Sumac
Sumac is versatile; and, can be used as a flavour enhancer, similar to salt; or used as spice. It is used in addition with other spices and herbs as a rub for grilled meat, fish, kebabs and roasted vegetables. You can also sprinkle on porridge, salads and yogurt, cheeses and hummus.
It is used in similar ways to lemon and can be used in recipes that call for lemon zest or juice. The sourness of sumac is not as overpowering as lemon, so it is good for recipes with mild flavours, where the lemon is likely to overpower other flavours.
Sumac powder works very with spices nutmeg, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and cardamom. It is one of the main ingredients of za’atar. It is also one of the component of the Egyptian spice mix; dukkah ; as well kebab spices.
Is Sumac Poisonous
Sometimes, sumac the spice can be confused with poison sumac, a closely related plant. Poison sumac is found in around the United States; and can cause allergic reaction when the skin comes in contact with it. It has green berries which turn waxy white as they mature. Edible sumac plants have bright red berries which hang in clusters.