Spice Root

Spice Root

Spice Root
26 Jun 2023

What is sumac?

On the first edition of Spice Root, well explore the origins of sumac — a bright fuchsia garnish with a citrusy, earthy flavor found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Sumac is usually derived from the poisonous shrub of the same name. The culinary variety, however, is safe to eat and easily identifiable by its vibrant red berries. These berries are crushed into a coarse powder and sold as a ground spice that adds color and tartness, similar to hibiscus. 

The metallic character of sumac is almost unmistakable! A common feature in Palestinian, Lebanese and Turkish cuisines, its slightly vinegar-like flavor adds a punch to any salad, marinade or dressing. The ingredient is sprinkled over soups, dips, loaves of bread, meats, rice and veggies. Its often mixed in zaatar, a traditional spice blend which contains marjoram, oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander, toasted sesame seeds and salt. 

Beyond savory dishes, sumac can even be used to prepare a variety of desserts. Take Chef Aryans recipe, for instance. Our Learning Facilitator put an Arabic twist to the classic gujiya by combining sumac, zaatar and pomegranates. I wanted to reduce the desserts sugar content and realized that sumac was the perfect way to do so! Rich in Vitamin A & E, its an effective antioxidant which prevents cancer, reduces blood pressure and curbs diabetes. I always encourage students to experiment with food and teaching them such techniques has been a real treat. Once they learn the precise method, they are free to innovate and create their own dishes.”

The roots: Middle East

Taste: lemony, vinegar-like

Rich in: Vitamin A, Vitamin E, antioxidants 

Proceed with caution: If youre worried about accidentally picking poison sumac berries, just remember that the lethal variety is white, not red.
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