Sumac (Rhus coriaria)
Sumac berries both ground or whole are used in many Middle Eastern cuisines. The berries can vary from red to dark purple.
Sumac has an tangy, pleasant, citrus fruit flavour. Sumac has the ability to bring out the flavours of the food to which it is added, much as salt does.
Sumac is only slightly aromatic; the taste is pleasantly tart, fruity, and astringent.
Sumac is a common ingredient in many Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian cuisines. It pairs well with fish, chicken, beef, potato, lentils, eggplant, chickpeas, rice and beetroot and can be used to flavour kebabs, fattoush salad, marinades, hommus and salad dressings. Sumac is one of the main ingredients in the spice mix za’atar along with sesame seeds and dried thyme. Sumac marries with other herbs and spices including chilli, coriander, cumin, paprika, thyme and parsley.
Sumac berries grow on Rhus bushes which develop to approximately 3 metres. Sumac is grown in Southern Italy, Sicily and throughout the Middle East. Rhus bushes can be started from seed or new shoots from rhizomes. The bush has white flowers which turn into red berries. Pick just before they ripen and then dry in the sun.
The word sumac has French, Lating and Arabic heritage and means ‘red’. Sumac dates back to Roman times where is was used as a souring agent, similar to lemon juice or vinegar. Native Americans combined sumac leaves with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.
Sumac is a great antioxidant, antifungal agent and antimicrobial agent that scavenges away free radicals and lowers blood sugar and also helps regulate blood sugar levels. And studies show that Sumac rids the colon, liver, and other parts of the body of oxidized free radicals. Sumac is anti-inflammatory too and works great for arthritis and skin inflammation.
Sumac can be used in drinks as treatment for upset stomachs, fevers and bowel complaints.
Facts about Sumac
Sumac berries can be used whole with the internal seed intact. They can be ground or cracked, then soaked for about 15 minutes in warm water and squeezed to release their juice. The juice can then be strained and added toward the end of the cooking process.
Some beekeepers use dried sumac as a source of fuel in their smokers.
Where can I buy sumac?
It’s best to by whole sumac from specialist Middle Eastern grocers as there are berries in the sumac family (found mostly in the USA) that are poisonous. However in Australia, sumac is usually sold in powder form in most supermarkets.