WHAT IS IT?
Sumac is the berry of a shrub or small tree. Most North Americans think of sumac as “poison sumac,” the stuff that made you itch and break out when you brushed by it on a hike or at summer camp. That’s a different subspecies from the edible sumacs have red berries that grow in cone-shaped clusters. Toxicodendron Vernix, IS poisonous, just one of 19 types of Sumac that grow in North America. The other kinds have been used for centuries as spices and medicinally.
Sumac’s lead is its intense sour aftertaste. It is very useful in dishes where you don’t want the acid of vinegar but you need a little of that sour that vinegar or lemon juice produces. It has an aroma that fuses wild raspberries, lemon peel, and warm Indian spices.
Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in East Asia, Africa and North America. It’s used extensively in Turkish, Iranian, and Moroccan food, though the shrub itself and has a strong presence in Sicily where it is used more for landscaping than cooking.
- Seasoning Grilled eggplant baba ghanoush
- Sprinkled over hummus, rice, and kebabs in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines
- A little sour added to pickled onions
- Salted and seasoned melon
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Pee Wee’s Shredded BBQ Pork Perfection
- Added to a balsamic vinaigrette for some sour without lemon burn
- Accentuates a plum and fennel salad;
- Sprinkle on trout with the other seasonings to get the lemony pop without the lemon, and some nice color!
- Add a bit to homemade ketchups for a little sour pop.
Sumac leaves and berries are classified as astringent and cooling. Native Americans have used the edible varieties for medicinal purposes, and soaked the berries, then sweetened the water for what has been called “Indian lemonade” or “Rhus juice.” The bushes of the edible plants that were first consumed were indiginous to South Africa, and moved along trading routes into the Middle East/North Africa, and were likely introduced into Europe during the Moorish invasions around 711.
While this ground sumac is fully edible and has no health effects, people sometimes like to use spices growing in their yards. Be warned: There are many many sumac species. Particularly if you live in North America, don’t pick wild sumac. Poison sumac/poison ivy have an allergen, urushiol, which can cause severe allergic reactions. Poison sumac may be identified by its white berry clusters. All parts of that plant with the white berries are poisonous to humans. Unless you are a botanist or trained in identifying plant species, best to go with a store-bought variety. Get sumac through our purveyors that is the kind that is both safe and edible.
Get top quality from our friends at SpiceJungle.