Spice Spotting: Sumac


This set of herbs and spices were a lovely gift from a friend who had been to Turkey. Most of the packets I knew what to do with but the sumac I had no clue. Though I didn’t realise it, I’ve eaten sumac numerous times as it’s one of the ingredients in za’atar, a condiment used extensively in Middle Eastern cuisine.


The first thing I did was sniff and the vaguely lemon sherberty smell that greeted me was most unexpected.  Next the taste test. I know you shouldn’t judge a spice by its cover but sumac doesn’t taste how I expected based on how it looks. The dark rusty red colour made me assume it would be fiery like chilli but it isn’t in the slightest. The flavour is tart and citrusy but without the lip pursing sharpness of lemon.

It is made from dried wild berries originally found around the Mediterranean and Iran. Lemons are a relatively recent addition to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.  They were only introduced to these regions around the 11th century AD by Arab traders bringing them from Asia.  Before lemons were widely available, sumac was used, and still is, as a sour flavour and general flavour enhancer.  Native American make a drink from the fresh berries which I imagine must be very refreshing.

Anyway I do love an exciting new ingredient to play with so have been on the hunt for recipes using sumac and will share my discoveries.  If you have any good ones do please send them my way.


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