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Sumac Spice: You Can Definitely Include This in Your Spice Box

Sumac Spice
Though, poison sumac and the sumac spice (rhus coriaria) belong to the same family, they have opposite properties. Poison sumac can give a nasty rash to the skin, while the spice is used to get relief from an upset stomach. This article will give you an insight on the sumac plant, its cultivation, and uses for cooking.
Pragya T
Last Updated: Mar 7, 2018
Sumac spice powder is deep purplish in color. A little pinch of this spice can add a nice tangy lemon flavor to salad or meat dishes. This spice is easy to find, and one can buy it at a supermarket. It is used in many Greek and Middle Eastern recipes. There is no good substitute for it, however, if you want to get the lemony tang flavor you can add juice of lemon to the salads or on the grilled meat recipes. If you are looking to add color to a dish, then you can add a dash of paprika spice if you don't have sumac spice.
General Information
Sumac is derived from Aramaic word 'summaq', which means dark red. The variety of sumac tree called rhus coriaria has been used for cooking purposes for millennia. The sumac spice comes from the berries of a wild bush, which grows in the wilds of Mediterranean, especially in regions like southern Italy, Sicily, and parts of the Middle East, notably in Iran. Sumac is an essential ingredient in Arabic cooking, as preferred to lemon for sourness and astringency. This variety is non-poisonous and has a dark red burgundy color. When the berry is dried and ground to powder, it has a nutty texture and a tart, sour lemon taste.
Plant Cultivation
The bushes of the anacardiaceae family reaching a height of ten feet have light gray stems which exude a resin, when cut the younger branches are hairy. The sumac spice plant leaves are pinnate having around eleven elliptical leaflets, that are hairy on the underside. During the fall season, the leaves turn bright red in color, and white flowers with conical clusters of fruits enclosed in a dark reddish hairy covering can be seen. These are easy to propagate seeds, and sumac grows good in soil which is poor in quality. In parts of Sicily, this spice is widely cultivated and grown in the wild of the mountains.
Properties of Sumac
Sumac spice health benefits are well-known in the Middle East. The berries of sumac are considered as natural diuretic foods, hence they are used to treat many bowel-related problems or for reducing fever. In Middle East, sumac berries are used to make a sour drink, that helps in getting rid of an upset stomach.
Preparing and Storing the Spice
You can directly buy packets of sumac spice from the supermarket or prepare it at home with berries. The sumac berries are dried, and then ground into a powder. Many times berries are macerated in hot water and mashed to release its juice. To use berries, you can cut them open and soak in water for around half an hour, then place it in a cheesecloth and squeeze the extract and use it as a marinade when cooking non-vegetarian dishes. If you are storing the ground sumac powder, then make sure you store it in an air-tight container and keep the container in a dark place. This way you can preserve it for longer.
Using Sumac for Cooking
Sumac is used to add flavor to many recipes like fish, chicken, rice pilaf, etc. It can also be used to sprinkle salads, added to the salad dressings, or sprinkled over raw onions. You can try substituting any dish that uses lemon juice with this spice. Hummus when sprinkled with sumac spice, becomes very tasty. Sumac is used in Lebanon and Syria to flavor many seafood and fish recipes. It can be also used for flavoring stuffing, legumes, rice, and breads in general. You can also combine this spice with yogurt and herbs, and make a great sauce or dip. It can also be used as salt, but to use it as salt one needs to add it more generously to the dishes.
So, use it in the powder form or the extract form from fresh berries and enjoy tangy, lemon-flavored dishes!
Ground Sumac and berries