Sumac — Everything You Need To Know About The Burgundy Ground Spice

·3-min read
Photo credit: Maryna Pleshkun - Getty Images
Photo credit: Maryna Pleshkun - Getty Images

Sumac is a burgundy-coloured ground spice that has a tangy, lemony flavour. Made from dried sumac berries, this citrusy seasoning is used in Middle Eastern cooking to add a gentle sourness to everything from kebabs and salads to dips, grilled chicken and seafood.

Is sumac spicy?

Sumac isn’t spicy like a chilli powder or hot paprika. It has a sour, floral tang that’s a bit like lemon or limes but isn’t quite as astringent. It’s often used as a substitute for (or paired with) citrus in recipes that call for a zesty lift and is one of the key ingredients in Za’atar along with dried herbs and toasted sesame seeds.

Easy ways to use sumac

Use sumac as a table spice, like salt and pepper, and season dishes with it upon serving. Sprinkle it over fried eggs or omelettes, dredge over hot chips and popcorn, add a dash to avocado toast or stir into sandwich mixes. It’s also scrumptious dusted over grilled chicken, roasted cauliflower, baked sweet potato and creamy cheeses, like feta, brie and ricotta. You can even mix it into a salad dressing.

How to use sumac in dips

Sprinkle sumac over bowls of creamy hummus, smoky baba ghanoush or thick dollops of labneh for a lemony smack. The deep red colour instantly brightens up shop-bought dips, especially if you pair it with a drizzle of good olive oil and lots of crunchies, like pitta chips and crudites. You can also stir sumac into tahini or mayo to make a zingy spread for pitta kebabs.

Photo credit: PARKER FEIERBACH
Photo credit: PARKER FEIERBACH

Ways to use sumac in meat dishes

Mix sumac into oil and seasonings, like cumin and garlic, to create a marinade for chicken skewers, lamb shawarma or steaks.

The classic Palestinian dish, Mussakhan, is made by marinading chicken thighs and drumsticks in sumac, spices and red onions before baking. The tender chicken is placed on top of taboon bread or naan so it soaks up all the caramelised juices before being topped with toasted pine nuts.

Sumac features in Iranian koobideh kebabs too. Make them by combining ground lamb, grated onions, sumac and saffron together, shaping onto skewers and grilling or barbecuing.

How to use sumac on fish

The citrusy flavour of sumac beautifully complements fish. And unlike a marinade containing an acid like lemon juice, it won’t cook raw seafood as it sits. Sprinkle sumac and salt over sea bass or haddock before grilling or pan frying for a deliciously simple lunch served alongside salad and flatbread. Alternatively, sprinkle sumac onto chunky salmon fillets prior to baking and serve with a minty yogurt dressing.

How to make sumac onions, slaws and salads

Take the raw edge off red onions by marinading them in a little sumac and lemon. The marinade dilutes the colour of the onions too, turning them an almost translucent pink – they look super-pretty served on shawarama, flatbreads and summer salads (toss in some chopped mint or parsley for extra colour and aroma). Sumac also lends a lemony flavour to shredded salads, like fennel coleslaw, and yummy green salads, like Fattoush.

Sweet sumac recipes

Sprinkle sumac over slices of chilled melon, Eton mess or baked plums. Dust it on top of the icing for lemon drizzle cake to boost the citrus notes in the batter (or mix it into the icing itself to make a ruby-red glaze).

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