The dried and ground berries of the sumac bush. The fine powder has a tangy-lemony taste. In the Middle East sumac is as much of an essential ingredient as vinegar or lemon juice is in the West.

This tart-fruity spice is wonderful dusted on meats, fish, chicken, or simply on rice and veggies. Try sprinkling a bit of sumac on top of Persian cucumbers with feta or plain yogurt for a delicious side dish.


Other names: Sumak, Summak, Sumach, Elm-leafed Sumac, Tanner’s Sumach French: sumac German: Sumach Italian: sommacco Spanish: zumaque Arabic: sammak, Sicilian Sumac
Translations: Etiķkoku, Σουμάκι, Žagrenių, السماق, Сумах, ウルシ, Ruj, Cây thù du, Sumaka, Руј, 옻나무, Sumak, एक प्रकार का पौधा, סומאק, Sumagre, 苏马克, Sumak, Ruj, Сумах, Zumaque, Смрадлика

Physical Description

Small red berries with sour taste.

Colors: Red and brown

Tasting Notes

Flavors: Tart, citrus, sour
Mouthfeel: Sour
Food complements: Poultry, Beef, Seafood, Vegetables, Pasta
Wine complements: White wines
Substitutes: Lemon juice

Selecting and Buying

Seasonality: january, february, march, april, may, june, july, august, september, opctober, november, december
Buying: Available online, at most grocers, and specialty shops.

Preparation and Use

The berries can be dried, ground and sprinkled into the cooking, or macerated in hot water and mashed to release their juice, the resulting liquid being used as one might use lemon juice. Ground sumac keeps well if kept away from light and air.

Conserving and Storing

Store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.


Sumac is considered essential for cooking in much of the Middle East; it served as the tart, acidic element in cooking prior to the introduction of lemons by the Romans. Sumac has a very nice, fruity-tart flavor which is not quite as overpowering as lemon. In addition to their very pleasant flavor, flakes from the berry are a lovely, deep red color which makes a very attractive garnish.

History: The name sumac is derived from Aramaic "summaq" meaning "dark red." The variety of sumac "Rhus coriaria" is sold as a spice for cooking, and has been used in cooking for millenia.
2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c.40-90 AD) wrote in his voluminous "De Materia Medica" ("On Medical Matters") about the healthful properties of sumac - primarily as a diuretic and anti-flatulant when it was "sprinkled among sauces" and mixed with meat. Dioscorides served in Roman Emperor Nero's armies as physician, pharmacologist, and botanist.

One practice of ancient Rome continues today in certain cuisines: sumac berries are boiled in water, drained, and pressed to extract their essential oils. The oil is then mixed with either olive oil or vinegar, depending on the type of condiment sauce being made. The sumac oil or sumac vinegar is then used much the same as current day vinegar and olive oil.

North American indigenous peoples (Indians) used two native species of sumac - Rhus glabra and Rhis aromatica - to prepare a concoction similar to beer.



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