Understanding Spices

SumacWhat is Sumac?

Sumac also known as Sumach, Sumak, Sommak or Somak is a berry of a wild grown shrub or small tree (genus Rhus) typically found in the Middle East especially Turkey and Iran. The name derives from the arabic word summaq meaning red, which is the colour of the berries. Although there are a number of sumac species, it is the species Rhus Coriaria that is commonly used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine. The fruits are typically harvested whole, dried and then processed and sold as a crushed berry, typically marketed as crushed sumac. Crushed sumac has a beautiful deep red colour and a tangy, lemony flavour. It is commonly used to flavour meats and salads or as a garnish for houmous and other meze dishes. The tangy za’atar spice blend is a combination of sumac and other spices.

Two closely related species of sumac, smooth and staghorn, are found in the USA where the native Indian population used to prepare traditional sour beverages called sumac-ade, Indian lemonade, or rhus juice.

The growing demand for sumac berries over recent decades and the popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine and Middle Eastern recipes means that it is now offered by numerous UK suppliers. Fresh, high quality sumac has a deep, rich hue. When buying sumac it is very important that you buy it from a reputable supplier that has carried out sufficient quality checks. Poor quality sumac has been known to be contaminated with illegal dyes such as Sudan and Orange II to mimic the colour of high quality sumac. The most recent product recall was in May 2015. For further details please see the Food Standards Agency website.

It is also worth noting that sumac products can sometimes contain added salt, sometimes only in very small percentages. Seasoned Pioneers only source and supply sumac that is salt free.

Sumac recipes

There are plenty of sumac recipes to try on the web these days. We have a number on this site for you to enjoy for example Baked Chicken and Onions or Spiced Persian Meatballs and lastly for any vegetarians Pilaf Stuffed Onions.

Ghillie Basan is a well know food writer and expert in Middle Eastern cuisine and Middle Eastern recipes. She has published more than 40 titles including Modern Moroccan – ancient traditions combined with contemporary cooking, where there are great recipes using sumac. Here is a recipe that Ghillie has allowed us to share with you Toasted Bread Salad with Sumac.
Nigella Lawson first mentioned our sumac in 2002. In her book titled Forever Summer there are a number of delicious sumac and zahtar recipes. Seasoned Pioneers zahtar spice contains sumac amongst other ingredients. Nigella used our zahtar (za’atar) in a pita bread recipe (page 16, Forever Summer) and in her Za’atar Chicken and Fattoush recipe (page 134).

We have just bought Rick Stein’s new book titled From Venice to Istanbul. As you might expect crushed sumac appears in quite a few of his recipes along with other Middle Eastern spices including ground cumin, wild oregano, saffron to mention a few.

In Arab cuisine and across the Mediterranean ground sumac is used as a garnish on hummus amongst other meze type dishes. Other easy ways of using ground sumac include substituting it where you might use lemon juice. For example try sprinkling it over the top of a freshly made summer salad.

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