What is Sumac ? 

Are you looking for a spice to give that wow factor inside a meal? Have you always wondered if you can spice up your spice mixture just a bit more? Do you want to add a sour taste to your meal without having to add a liquid? Then Sumac might be the spice you have been looking for. Its taste and color will give a whole new depth to your dish! 

Sumac is a flower containing small berries that grow on a tree. The tree is part of the plant family Anacardiaceae which is part of the Cashew family. Sumac berries are well known dried and get used as a spice. It is famous for its deep red color and exotic taste.

For sumac to grow the plant needs well-drained soil. The tree is native to Eastern North America. Apart from its beautiful shape and color, it got especially famous for its taste. Therefore, it gets used in many cuisines and recipes today. Want to know more about how you can use this versatile flower/berry? Are you interested in its health benefits? Than we recommend you to keep reading!

Where Does Sumac Come From?

As mentioned above Sumac is well-known as a spice. It originates from the berries of the Anacardiaceae tree. The tree, flower, and berries grow mostly in subtropical climates, in an area where the soil is well drained. That is a reason why you can find it in, and it is native to Eastern and North America.

Its name derives from the Aramaic word summaq (Sumac). If you were to translate this word, it would translate to “dark red”. An obvious choice when you see the deep dark red color of the berries.

When the berries are ripe they get harvested. The harvested berries get placed somewhere to dry, and once the drying process is complete, they get ground, and eventually, they get sold as a spice.

The berries are used by indigenous people as medicine. They believe it treats cough, sour throats, wounds, and stomachaches. 

Is sumac spice poisonous?

As you can imagine from the above information, no, Sumac is not poisonous. Often the red Sumac is confused with the white Sumac. White Sumac are white berries that are poisonous when eaten. That is where the confusion comes in. The easy way to know the two apart are by looking at the color. Do you have deep red berries? Than you are good to go. Are they white? Than we recommend leaving them on the tree or in the store. If you buy Sumac as a spice in a store you could say you are almost certain of buying the correct kind.

What Does Sumac Taste Like?

Sumac is known for its taste. It most often gets described as being sour, sweet, and astringent. This is why Sumac often gets added to dishes that are missing a sour taste. When you do not want to add to much liquid, like you do when adding lemon juice, to a meal Sumac is a great alternative. The sweet taste balances out the sour. When adding to much Sumac in a dish the astringent taste can take over leaving a bit of a drying feeling inside your mouth. You can experiment with this to find out how you like it. 

To balance the three tastes of Sumac it often gets combined with a few other spices. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, clove, ginger, chili, cumin, and even thyme are all great in combination with Sumac. You can create a spice mixture of your own taste and liking.

What Spice is Similar to Sumac?

Sumac being especially sour in taste, makes its most similar to lemon juice. If you want to substitute Sumac, than the easiest way to do that is to use lemon zest. Apart from lemon juice or zest, Sumac can also be substituted by Za’atar, tamarind, and vinegar.

Of course, in the end no spices are the same, and no spices will have the same influence into your meal. Therefore, if you are talking about substituting or finding a spice that is similar to Sumac we would advise you to just take a different path with your recipe. If you want to stick to the original recipe than try to buy Sumac in a shop or online. 

What is Sumac Best for?

Sumac is best for its flavour and adding it to dishes. Often people use it to marinade roasted and grilled meats. It is also added into spice mixes, and used for salade dressings. As you can read it is used in widely different meals. It is universally appealing what makes Sumac so special. If you want to get inspired with a few examples of dishes that Sumac gets added to read the paragraph below ‘What foods do you use Sumac for?’

Apart from being a helpful spice in the kitchen it also carries a few Health benefits. Studies have shown that Sumac is extremely anti-inflammatory. This is due to the amount of antioxidants the berries contain naturally. These antioxidants we need to neutralise free radicals, and to keep our system healthy. Studies have also shown that it is a natural medicine for people with type 2 diabetes. It is said that it will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease amongst these people. Some other health benefits are discussed below in the paragraph ‘how healthy is Sumac.’

Are Sumac and Turmeric the Same?

We get this question a lot, but, No, Turmeric and Sumac are not the same. Some differences between Sumac and Turmeric.

  • Turmeric comes from turmeric plant roots
  • Sumac is a berry
  • Turmeric is yellow in color
  • Sumac is deep red in color
  • Turmeric is slightly pungent in flavor
  • Sumac is tangy and lemony 
  • Tumeric originates from South Asia
  • Sumac originates from Eastern North America

As you can read they are two totally different spices in color, taste, and origin. 

What Foods do you use Sumac for?

Sumac is very versatile. It gets used worldwide in many different dishes. Some examples are:

  • As a garnish on plates that can use some sour tastes
  • Inside marinades and rubs for roasted and grilled meats
  • Sprinkled over Hummus or used in Baba Ganoush 
  • Sprinkled on salads, and other cold side dishes
  • Sprinkled on fish that just came out of the pan
  • Used in sauces, like yoghurt sauce or mayonaise

    As you can read above it is really up to everyones own taste, in what dishes you want to add Sumac. Just remember to skip the lemon juice that might be in the ingrediënt list of the recipe your making to not over sour the food. We are curious to how you have experimented with Sumac and what dishes you have added it to?

Is Sumac a Superfood?

Yes, Due to Sumac’s health benefits (you can read about this below), and especially being anti-inflammatory it is on the list of superfoods. Sumac works as an anti-inflammatory due to the high amount of antioxidants that it has naturally. A superfood is a food that is beneficial to a person’s health. Often it is high in antioxidants, fiber or fatty acids. 

Even though many superfoods have helped people’s health over the world it gets recommended to stay aware that every person is different and might react to a certain type of food in their own way. Therefore, we recommend eating Sumac to bring your meal up to flavor. If you want to use it as a superfood or as a medicine frequently, it’s advised to talk to a diëtist or medical expert.

How Healthy is Sumac?

Sumac is still unknown in many places over the world, and researchers are still looking into this beautiful deep red berry to figure out its exact health benefits and how healthy it is. That said there are some scientists that have explored this particular fruit and come to the following conclusion.

From their research, they were able to find that Sumac berries hold many nutrients. The berry contains about 5%protein, 19%fat and 71%carbs (of which 14% is fiber). The fat that is stored inside the berry is believed to help with heart health, healthy skin, and cellular membranes. The fibers will help the digestive system stay strong. Apart from that Sumac also contains other essential nutrients we all need. Nutrients like B6, B1, B12, and vitamin C. 

As mentioned before the fruit is also rich in antioxidants. The antioxidants help to protect our cells from damage and reduce stress inside the body. Apart from that, it works as an anti-inflammatory. This is why when eating the berry can help with inflammatory diseases like cancer and even heart disease. 

This research that studied the extraction process of Sumac Polyphenols show the abundance of polyphenols which could explain all the health benefits linked to Sumac. Polyphenols have a beneficial impact on mitochondria, the energy producers in our cells and our gut biome.

Can Sumac regenerate soil?

Yes, Sumac has been used to regenerate depleted soil in mountainous regions in China with success.

Can you make a drink from Sumac?

Absolutely! Sumac-ade is actually a beverage, sumac is often used in cocktails thanks to is subtle sour taste and deep red appearance. We will be experimenting with sumac drinks soon!

Can you make Tea from Sumac?

Yes, Sumac tea is absolutely delicious and full of healthy Polyphenols. The tea’s deep red color is amazing. Personally we love to make a tea blend with other tree products. Sumac goes great together with a flowery taste like a linden blossem.

Final thoughts about Sumac 

As you can read above Sumac is a pretty special flower and berry. It is well known for its deep red color and taste. It is used widely in Eastern Northern American cuisine, and its popularity is growing worldwide. That Sumac tastes nice in a meal is what made it more popular amongst many nations, and that it also contains many health benefits is a nice added bonus. 

To what dishes have you added Sumac to?

Frederik Lamote

Frederik is the founder of Koroway.com, a startup that is 3D printing Treehouses. While exploring treehouse locations around the world he got fascinated by the value and products trees produce.

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