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What Is Sumac?

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Sumac is a rare but memorable spice used most often in Middle Eastern cooking. When it comes to commonly used spices that we see used over and over in various recipes, sumac is not an ingredient that comes up very often, but we are here to change that to show you how incredible this spice really is. So what is sumac and how you use to spice up your cooking game…?

What Is Sumac? 

Sumac is made from the berries of the sumac flower that are dried and ground into this deep red spice. The use of sumac dates back to before the Roman empire so its flavour and efficacy has really stood the test of time. This crimson plant is grown throughout the Mediterranean as well as in sub-tropical areas of Africa and North America, but it is used the most prolifically in the Middle East and parts of North Africa [1]

The name itself even translates to “red” or “deep red” in reference to the colour of the berries and flowers of the plant itself. Its flavour is bright, tangy and lemony so it is perfect for adding a zing to any dish. It can be used in a multitude of ways across sweet and savoury dishes, so this versatile space is a great addition to any pantry. 

sumac

How Do You Use Sumac? 

Where to begin? Sumac and its distinctive citrusy flavour work very well alongside a lot of ingredients especially those that are very rich and fatty as it cuts through that fat an balances out the flavours to perfection. It can be sprinkled over a dish as a finishing garnish, this is very delicious when sprinkled over hummus, or even included in a spice rub where it adds both flavour and a rich red colour to your meat. On this note sumac is also a key ingredient in the popular Lebanese spice mix za’atar along with thyme and sesame seeds that can be used in a multitude of different dishes including a spice crust, baked into bread or even sprinkled on popcorn to add a unique flavour to your snack. It is also an essential ingredient in another Middle Eastern classic, the fattoush salad, which is made up of pita bread, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce sprinkled liberally with sumac to finish it off. Sumac isn’t only reserved for dinner however. It can even be used on your breakfast to season your Middle Eastern baked eggs and any other eggs really as the richness of the yolks work perfectly alongside the citrus flavour. This magical spice can really make itself at home with almost every ingredient and in any meal at any time of day. 

One protein that sumac is particularly good with is, yes yet another Middle Eastern favourite, lamb. Sumac lamb chops, slow cooked lamb shanks and even sumac roasted lamb are just a few sumptuous dishes that sumac enhances in a delicious and unique way. This protein is very high in fat with a strong gamey flavour that sumac balances with effortless flare. 

When it comes to fruit sumac works very well alongside the Meyer lemon as it combats the sweetness while enhancing the tangy qualities. This pair can be used in so many different dishes from Meyer lemon and sumac roasted chicken, to sumac lemon bars for dessert. 

Some more desserts that sumac takes to the next level is cinnamon sugar apple crumble and even a sumac chocolate ganache tart. Its particularly useful in desserts due to the way it cuts through richness and adds a zing to a dish that would otherwise feel very heavy. 

Sumac doesn’t just have to be eaten however. It can also be drunk in a few different forms. This could be through tea as a herbal supplement where the spices are dried, steeped and drunk for its health benefits. There is also a traditional Middle Eastern ‘lemonade’ recipe that consists of steeping the whole berries in water to create a delightfully refreshing tangy beverage. 

Why You Should Start Cooking With Sumac? 

Back in the day sumac was actually used for medicinal purposes and that is not surprising when you see how many benefits this humble spice actually has. Besides its delightful flavour, here are some of the health benefits that should encourage you to incorporate sumac into your cooking right now! 

High In Antioxidants 

Sumac is rich in essential antioxidants as well as nutrients and minerals. Besides the benefits that come along with these minerals the antioxidant properties mean that this spice can actually reduce muscle pain. Simply drink a sumac infused  drink to reduce any pain from exercise in a completely natural way.  

Balances Blood Sugar 

This makes sumac a great addition to any diet but most specifically for those with type 2 diabetes. A small dose of only 3g of sumac per day, taken in any manner, can help treat diabetes and increase insulin sensitivity. 

Reduces Chance Of Bone Depletion 

We all experience bone depletion as we age but we can help fight that simply using sumac. 

This multi-use spice has a property that balances the proteins responsible for bone metabolism so you can stay stronger for longer. 

Overall Nutrition 

As well as all the benefits previously discussed sumac is also high in fibre and healthy fats, which improves digestion. It is also very high in vitamin c, which boosts your immune system. 

What Is Sumac? Summing Up 

Overall sumac is a spice that adds a whole new level to many different dishes through its delightfully tangy flavour, the only limits are really your creativity and cooked prowess. If you are a fan of Middle Eastern food, then this spice is an absolute must have in your food cupboard. As well as its dynamic flavour we have clearly shown that sumac is also an incredibly beneficial spice when it comes to your health is many different facets. From flavour to health benefits, sumac really has it all, how could you go wrong? So, stop sleeping on this amazing spice and get sumac into your spice rack today! 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumac

Amy Hand
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