Sumac is a relatively unknown spice in the US, and is only slightly better known in much of Europe. It is native to the Middle East and Mediterranean region, where its bright, lemony flavor profile makes it a valuable addition to many dishes. Sumac’s name comes from the Aramaic word summaq, which means dark red. The spice is a dried red flower from a plant in the cashew family. Let’s review some of the best ways to use sumac.
Table of Contents
- As a topping for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods
- As a popcorn spice
- As a dry rub and marinade spice
- As a za’atar ingredient
- As a salad spice
- As a cheese spice
- As a dessert spice
- As a table condiment
As a topping for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods
Not only is sumac a flavorful spice to sprinkle on foods, but it is also an attractive one. The deep red flakes work especially well when used to flavor and decorate dishes from the Levant including hummus and olive oil. Use it to garnish a bowl of hummus or add it to olive oil and then dip your flatbread into it. It is particularly complementary to fish because of its lemon flavor. Use it to give fish a lemon flavor without the moisture from lemon juice.
As a popcorn spice
Want something healthier than butter? Use sumac to add a complex tartness to your popcorn. It can give a vinegar taste to popcorn without the wetness of vinegar.
As a dry rub and marinade spice
Sumac works as a seasoning for poultry, pork, and lamb. Its bright tartness cuts through pork’s fattiness and lamb’s gaminess. Sumac pairs well with most of the seasonings you might encounter in a dry rub for meat. In addition to enhancing flavor, sumac is used because it can act as a meat tenderizer.
As a za’atar ingredient
Sumac is one of the essential ingredients in the Middle Eastern herb and spice blend za’atar. While za’atar ingredients vary depending on how the cook intends to use the blend, the standard ingredients include oregano and thyme as well as sesame seeds to go with the sumac. You can use za’atar as a dry rub, table condiment or topping for bread.
As a salad spice
Because of its tartness, sumac makes a great addition to most salads. Use it on traditional Middle eastern salads like tabbouleh and fattoush. Sumac works as well in leafy European salads featuring arugula and spinach as it does in those from its land of origin. Sprinkle it over the salad or use it in a dressing, especially one that does not contain vinegar.
As a cheese spice
Sumac is an attractive topping for different kinds of cheese, especially those from the Mediterranean region. Sprinkle sumac over labneh, which is a Middle Eastern yogurt cheese. It is great on Greek feta cheese and the sheep or goat’s milk cheese from Cyprus known as halloumi. It is highly recommended for grilled halloumi. While sumac is not as widely associated with Italian food, it is used in parts of Italy and goes well with Italian ricotta cheese.
As a dessert spice
While most of the traditional sumac applications involve savory dishes, it is one of those spices that are just as useful in sweet dishes. Many bakers have found that sumac’s citrus notes are great in cakes, cookies, and ice creams. Sumac pairs well with both Middle Eastern and European dessert ingredients, and is a flavorful addition to raspberries.
As a table condiment
In the Middle East, sumac is a common table condiment that you sprinkle on food right before eating it. It is common to add a little extra sumac to dishes that already contain the spice to boost the flavor.