What Is Sumac?

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Discover How Sumac Is a Game-changer in the Kitchen

what is sumac

When you’re cooking, you use various spices and herbs to give your food added flavour and depth. These additions help take your food to the next level and let you create something mouth-watering.

While some basic spices are commonly used, there are some which aren’t so well-known. However, that doesn’t mean that these spices aren’t delicious.

These rarer spices can make your dishes taste incredibly unique and memorable and keep everyone coming back for more.

Sumac is one such spice that isn’t that well-known but has an incredibly complex taste. It is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisines to add a smoky spiciness to any dish.

If you’re interested in learning what is sumac and how to incorporate this spice into your food, keep reading below.

So first things first; What Is Sumac?

sumac trees growing

Sumac is a very delicious, tangy spice made from the berries of the sumac flower. It is incredibly fragrant and can brighten up any dish you add it to.

The berries of the sumac flower are dried and ground up to make this delicious spice.

Origins of Sumac

Sumac has a long and vibrant history, and it has been a part of various cultures historically. It has been used in food traditionally but has also been revered for its medicinal uses.

Archaeologists suggest that sumac was readily used for its medicinal properties as far back as the 11th century.

What Does It Taste Like?

Sumac has an unparalleled taste. It is bright, lemony, and vibrant. It is so tart that you almost get a vinegary taste from it.

This unique flavour makes it very exciting to work with, and you can add it to various sweet and savoury dishes easily.


6 Health Benefits of Sumac

These are just a few of the sumac benefits that come with this delicious spice.

1. High in antioxidants

Sumac is easily one of the healthiest spices around. It is rich in various nutrients and minerals like flavonoids, anthocyanin, and tannins.

Sumac spice can thus help reduce inflammation in your body. The presence of these antioxidants shows why sumac has traditionally been such a popular ingredient in herbal remedies.

2. Balances blood sugar

A spectacular benefit of sumac is that it balances your blood sugar. Various researches suggest that a simple 3-gram dose of sumac can significantly help control blood sugar in people with type-2 diabetes.

Sumac can also help increase insulin sensitivity.

3. Reduced chance of bone depletion

As we age, we become more prone to bone-related disorders like osteoporosis. Furthermore, we are more prone to fractures, broken bones, and reduced mobility.

However, adding sumac to our diet is an excellent way to ward off these ageing-related drawbacks. Sumac can alter the balance of proteins involved in bone metabolism.

This can help reduce the rate of bone depletion and keep us healthy, fit, and active for longer.

4. Fights against cancer

The various compounds in sumac have many cancer-fighting properties which can help control the spread of this fatal disease.

Taking a regular dose of sumac can help treat breast cancer, lymphatic cancer, leukaemia, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few. It can stop new blood vessels from forming, which distribute blood to the cancerous cells.

Furthermore, it can also hinder the development of existing cancerous cells and slow down the rate at which they divide.

5. Nutritious

Apart from being high in antioxidants, sumac is also high in various essential dietary components like fibre and healthy fats.

These minerals can improve digestion and help us lead a healthier life too.

6. Alleviates muscle pain

There is some evidence to suggest that sumac helps reduce the instance of exercise-induced muscle pain. Some researches show that taking a sumac beverage helped reduce muscle pain in the test groups. In contrast, the placebo groups experienced no change.

The high antioxidant levels in sumac may be responsible for this effect, as the researchers found much higher antioxidants in the test group’s blood.

sumac tree with bird

How to Cook with it

There are many ways you can cook with sumac. A popular way of using it is by adding it as a garnish on curries, dips, salads, and more.

Furthermore, you can incorporate sumac directly into your food also to give it a tangy kick. Another excellent way of using sumac is by adding it to spice rubs.

This is an excellent way of using sumac. It showcases its bright red colour while giving spice rubs the necessary tanginess and kick.

Sumac pairs exceptionally well with mint, yoghurt, and red meat. You can also use it as a replacement for lemon juice because of its strong flavour.

If you’re feeling extra experimental, you can even try adding it to desserts. However, it’s essential to be careful and add a little at a time to keep the flavour moderate.

Sumac Substitutes

Sumac has a tangy, bright taste which can only be substituted by lemon juice, vinegar, lemon zest, or lemon pepper seasoning.

However, all of these substitutes have a much stronger flavour than sumac, so you should use them in moderation. Furthermore, while you might get the tartness from these alternatives, you won’t be able to replicate the aroma of sumac.

So, it’s best to avoid using a sumac substitute and stick to the real deal.

white balsamic vinegar

Where to buy Sumac

You can easily find sumac in your local Middle Eastern spice markets. Furthermore, you can shop online to find different varieties.

Although sumac used to be a rare and hard to find spice, nowadays it is readily available at most stores.

What is sumac used for?

You can use this lemony, zingy spice to season a variety of meats and seafood for a dish that is truly memorable. You can also add it to dips, sprinkle on bread or use it as a garnish for various dips and dishes.

The bright taste can pair exceptionally well with foods that otherwise have a rich taste. The lemony flavour can help counteract the richness and provide some much-needed balance.

Furthermore, you can also steep the berries in water to make a bright, tangy, red sumac ‘lemonade,’ which is exceptionally refreshing on summer days.

You can also use sumac as a herbal supplement by making a tea or a beverage. These sumac beverages aren’t just incredibly healthy but are also very nutritious.

Sumac is also very safe to consume, so you don’t need to worry about any side effects.

What does sumac mean?

You can trace the origins of the word ‘sumac’ down various languages. It has roots in old French, Arabic, Syriac, and medieval Latin.

However, in all languages, it means ‘red,’ signifying the deep red colour of the berries.

Does sumac have vitamin C?

The deep red colour of sumac testifies to its high vitamin C content. Furthermore, it is also rich in various other antioxidants and minerals.

Sumac is so high in vitamin C that many Native American tribes used sumac juice to fight off scurvy, cold, and fever.

You can also take advantage of the high amount of vitamin C in sumac by adding it to your meals or making a sumac beverage.

Does sumac have sodium?

If you buy sodium from any Middle Eastern store, it will have added salt. Therefore, you need to reduce the quantity of salt that you add otherwise in the food.

However, some varieties have no added salt.

How do you identify sumac?

When identifying sumac tree, you need to differentiate between the poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. For starters, non-poisonous has grooved stems while poisonous sumac does not.

Poisonous sumac has smooth, rounded stems. You can also find poison sumac in wet, swampy areas, while edible sumac grows in dry regions.

All sumac trees are tall and have bright red or orange berries hanging from stems.

sumac trees

Is sumac poisonous to humans?

There are many different types of sumac, some of which can be poisonous to humans. Since sumac belongs to the same genus as poison ivy, there are some toxic varieties. Staghorn sumac is the most common variety, and it is non-poisonous.

Poisonous sumac doesn’t have saw-toothed edges as staghorn sumac does. Furthermore, it grows mainly in the wetlands, while non-poisonous varieties grow in drier regions.

Poison sumac is much more toxic than poison ivy, so it’s best to steer clear of this plant. It can cause itchy, burning skin, redness, swelling, and watery blisters.

In some cases, you can easily control the rash. Still, for others, the allergic reaction can spread and need medical assistance.


Sumac is an incredibly versatile, delicious spice that you can add to various dishes. You can play around with flavours and add them to various cuisines and not just Middle Eastern food.

The bright, tangy spice can make any dish seem much more vibrant. Furthermore, it makes for excellent presentation due to its red hue and mouth-watering fragrance.

It is also one of the healthiest spices around, and the various nutritional properties make sumac something of a superfood. It has been in use for thousands of years and will certainly stay in use for many more years to come.

Andy Canter


Ever since I started cooking I’ve been fascinated by how different people’s techniques are and how they best utilise the ingredients around them. Even the person living next door will have their own unique way of frying an egg or cooking a salmon fillet.

This fascination led me on a journey across the globe to discover the countless practices and traditions the world of cooking has to offer. I thought you’d enjoy and find value in sharing that journey with me so I created Cooked Best!