Get To Know: Sumac

Get To Know: Ground Sumac Spice

Today I’m starting a new column, because here’s the thing: I want to help you discover your own food adventures. Sometimes food adventures are a trip to a far-off place or an involved DIY project but other times they’re as simple as getting out of your cooking comfort zone to try something new. To help you try something new — and to get help you explore the far reaches of the grocery store — I’m launching this column called (drum roll, please), Get To Know.

Consider this a sort of tupperware party for my favorite pantry ingredients. I’ll tell you a tad about them, where to find them, and why you should give them a go (any/all suggestions are, of course, welcome). Some of the ingredients you may have tried and, in that case — I’ll just want to share with you how I use it and why I like it — but I’m also hoping to help you broaden your recipe repertoire with a few of these.

So, here we go — first up is sumac. Why? Well, because I just used it in a roast chicken recipe last week and the addition of ground sumac totally made the dish. Here’s the nitty gritty:

sumac berries

What it is: Though it’s related to Poison Ivy, the variety of sumac that we eat (staghorn sumac) is not poisonous. The berries of the sumac bush are dried then it’s sold in berry form or coarsely ground. Be forewarned that I’ve found a lot of companies add salt to their ground sumac so be on the lookout and salt accordingly!

Why you should give a damn: First, it’s a pretty brick red hue and it lends that color to anything it touches. As for flavor, well, it’s the ultimate in flavor boosters because it elevates flavors without overpowering them. It has a tart, berry, and lemony flavor and can be used in place of lemon when you’re going for the flavor — not for the acidic properties of citrus.

Where you can find it: More and more ground sumac can be found in the spice aisle of grocery stores, but it’s also available in Middle Eastern markets and, of course, online.

How it’ll benefit you: It adds zing to anything you use it with because of its tartness. Also, sumac has a few health benefits including it being known as antimicrobial, an antioxidant, and to help with indigestion.

How it really shines: Sumac is most common in Middle Eastern cooking and is classically used to make fattoush salad, za’atar spice rub, or added to tabbouleh. But keep it simple and use it anywhere you want a little tart flavor. Try it in your morning scramble, in your favorite vinaigrette, added to some garlic mayonnaise, sprinkled on hummus, or even tossed with watermelon or tomatoes to add zip to your next Caprese or watermelon-feta salad.

More cooking ideas:

Sumac and Thyme-Roast Chicken Recipe

Za’atar Flatbread with Burrata

Sumac-dusted Oven Fries

Sumac Skirt Steak with Pomegranate Reduction

Get To Know helps you explore the far reaches of the grocery store and takes you out of your culinary comfort zone. These are some of my favorite pantry ingredients that take food from everyday to adventurous.

Sumac berry photo courtesy of Muffet // Spice market photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

Columns Get To Know