Where I was living in Ontario, Sumac grew like a weed. It seemed that way anyway – it was everywhere. Little did I know then that the flower/berry part of the shrub could be dried and then ground down into a spice. For some reason, I had thought of it as being poisonous – not sure where I got that idea. Perhaps I was thinking of another variety of Sumac, because there is one that actually is poisonous. The only thing I had ever used it for was in Christmas potted arrangements. The late fall was the time of year where the flower/berry part of the tree was brightest red, and it was used to add a little splash of colour to the evergreens – the way people here in BC add holly berries to Christmas floral arrangements.
Chef Steve used ground Sumac spice in his Persian Lamb soup today. I never would have imagined Sumac as a spice, but there it is. He described the spice as being a rich purple in colour, Middle Eastern in its culinary roots, and as being tangy – almost lemony in its flavour. Sounds pretty interesting!
It is the ripe berry clusters that are used for the spice, and they are dried and then ground first. The spice is mainly used as a souring agent in Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Arabic cuisine. You could use in dishes yourself in the following ways:
- Add sumac to hummus or yogurt based dips
- Fry sumac with onions
- Add sumac to stews and soups
- Sprinkle sumac over rice, vegetables and meats
- Use sumac in place of lemon juice or rind
- Use sumac in place of vinegar or any acidic ingredients.