Spice Rack: Cooking With Sumac

Discovering unsual spices and herbs, one jar at a time. This month we spotlight sumac, aka sumach, farberbaum, and kankrasing.

Description: There is just one sumac tree from a species of approximately 150 varieties in which the berries are used for culinary purposes. The crimson berries are a bit larger than peppercorns and usually sold coarsely ground; the aroma is a cross between those of red grape and apple, and the taste is tangy with a fruity sourness. 

Cuisine Connection: Common in Middle Eastern cooking, sumac is used in fattoush salad (toasted bread with greens), za’atar spice rub, and tabbouleh. 

You Might Like to Know: Regarding those other 149 or so varieties of sumac trees—unless you enjoy blazing red rashes and oozing blisters, stay away!

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Purported Attribute: The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90 AD) wrote in his De Materia Medica (“On Medical Matters”) about the healthful properties of sumac—chiefly as a diuretic and anti-flatulant when it was “sprinkled among sauces” and mixed with meat.  

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