Underappreciated Sumac

Sumac, also spelled sumach, is any of about 35 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera in the cashew family (Anacardiaceae). Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, including East Asia, Africa, and North America. Sumac is used as a spice, as a dye, and in medicine.

This wine-coloured ground spice is one of the most useful but least known and most underappreciated. Made from dried berries, it has an appealing lemon-lime tartness that can be widely used.

Using sumac instead of lemon juice or zest immediately enhances dishes, giving a fascinating and exotic twist. Fish, poultry and vegetable dishes all spring to life in a new way. In Armenian, Azerbaijani, Central Asian, Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Turkish cuisine and Kurdish, it is added to salads, kebab and lahmajoun. Sumac is used in the spice mixture Za’atar. The flavour of sumac is so universally appealing that it’s hard to go wrong. Add it to salad dressings or the salads themselves, in fact, add it wherever you would use lemon or lime. It’s great on fried fish and on the chips too, rice dishes, and Middle Eastern fare such as hummus, bean or chickpea salads. It’s a great lifter of sandwich fillings and something as simple as cheddar and sumac is a winning combination. Sumac is not usually cooked with but can be and its reduced flavour brought to life by serving the dish with more sumac to sprinkle. In addition to a zesty flavoring for various dishes, sumac can also be used for its essential oils to create a flavored oil or vinegar, a practice that dates back to ancient Rome. The berries are boiled, drained, and pressed, and the essential oils are mixed with either olive oil or vinegar. The flavored oil or vinegar is used on its own or as part of a salad dressing. In Middle Eastern cooking, Sumac is commonly sprinkled on vermicelli rice, hummus, and kofta kabobs. It is also used to flavor marinades and salad dressings. These days, it’s even used in desserts!

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