Smoky and slightly astringent with hints of citrus and earthiness; sumac hints of exotic ports or cigars bars with sultry music or if too much is used, furniture polish.
I know it’s hard to imagine all of that in one little flavor, but once you try it (if you haven’t already) you will know what I mean. Of course, part of the flavor influence is how it is processed and made ready for culinary use.
Sumac for culinary use is actually made from the drupes, sort of like dates or berries, that are dried and then ground into a powder. Sometimes they are dried and smoked and then ground into a powder, hence the smoky flavor in the meal I was enjoying this evening. Sumac is a common ingredient in middle eastern food, as a main ingredient in Za’atar, which is delicious, and it’s also used in Italian food.
Culinary sumac, while in the same family, is not the same as the poison sumac that gives you an itchy rash. Culinary sumac can be added to any number of culinary endeavors, sweet and savory alike. As the main spice in quite a few middle eastern dishes, to a dusting powder for grilled meats, and on to sumac meringue followed up with a nice cup of sumac tea.
From a health perspective, sumac is, you guessed it, a good source of quite a few vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. I’m hoping you are beginning to see the trend; real food equals real nutrients. Back to the sumac… it is high in quercetin and vitamin C. Research demonstrates that it is effective in metabolizing carbohydrates effectively and balancing blood lipid levels. Studies also show that it is effective against cardiovascular disease and systemic inflammation. It is amazingly high in its antioxidant properties, contributing to the decrease and elimination of oxidative stress. Sumac is also antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial.
In Native American tradition sumac is often used as a tea for digestive issues, high cholesterol, heart disease, and also fungal infections.