Spice support: sumacMarch 2, 2022 by Darcie
Although sumac is most closely associated with Middle Eastern foods, the plants that produces the tart berries, the Rhus genus of the Anacardiaceae family, grow all over the world. You can learn this fact and more as Eater’s Sylvio Martins takes a deep dive into sumac, which he says can be a “secret weapon” in your spice arsenal.
The fuzzy red berries of the various sumac bushes are the edible part of the plant. The sumac plants that produce white berries are poisonous, warns Martins, so avoid those. Although various types of sumacs grow all over, the ones typically used for culinary purposes are Rhus coriaria and Rhus typhina. The former originated in the Mediterranean and is widely cultivated across southern Europe and the Middle East.
One of sumac’s magic powers is that it allows you to add acidity to food without incorporating additional liquid. This acidity is clean, without any bitterness or astringency that you often find with other tart foods. Martins describes the flavor of sumac as similar to the “tang of fresh-squeezed lemon juice; it’s tart and sharp, but also contains a hint of sweetness, along with lingering floral notes.” Sumac also acts as a meat tenderizer, and in North America the most popular traditional use was to make a refreshing beverage, similar to a lemon or limeade. It is a major component in the spice blend za’atar.
The EYB Library is filled with terrific recipes that utilize sumac, which typically comes as a powder. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Roast chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (pictured)
- Roasted sumac chicken with plums from Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark
- Turmeric chicken with sumac and lime from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
- Turkish fried eggs from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
- Tomato salad with pomegranate molasses (Gavurdagi salatasi) from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour
- Mango, cucumber, and sumac-onion Israeli salad from Zahav by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
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