Sumac Is the Secret Ingredient We’re Adding to Everything in Our Kitchen

fennel fattoush with sumac on top 728

Remember when gochujang was the flavor du jour? What about when Sriracha first hit the scene? Been there, done that (but forever in our fridge). We’re moving on to something new, fresh and flavorful: Introducing sumac, the seasoning you’ll be adding to everything.

First of all, what is sumac?

While you’ll find it in the spice aisle, sumac isn’t really a spice…but it’s not an herb, either. It’s actually a berry, and it’s a ubiquitous ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. And if you’ve ever had za’atar, you’ve probably had sumac—it’s a staple ingredient in the spice blend. The deep red powder comes from the dried, ground fruit of the Sicilian sumac shrub. You can find it in specialty food stores or online (we’re fans of Penzeys and Burlap & Barrel).

But what does it taste like?

Sumac is bright, citrusy and astringent—it’s like a complex, mouth-puckering combination of lemon, salt and vinegar. In fact, you can use it in place of lemon in a lot of dishes. Which leads us to our next point: Thanks to its lively flavor profile, sumac is endlessly versatile.

What dishes can I use it in?

Anything and everything. Because it tastes so similar to lemon, sumac is a natural pairing for chicken and fish. Sprinkle it on rice for a hint of brightness, or use it as a garnish for your next mezze platter. We’d be hard-pressed to find a food that sumac doesn’t complement. Baba ghanoush? Check. Jammy eggs and toast? You bet. Those fresh tomatoes you just plucked from your garden? You get the point.

Don’t believe us? Even Queer Eye’s resident food expert Antoni Porowski is a fan. He recently shared his go-to uses for the spice with us: “It pairs beautifully with many dishes—sprinkled over vegetables, chicken, fish or used in a dry rub or marinade. You can also add a pinch over a bowl of hummus or tabouleh for a little pop of flavor and color.”

And if you need even more inspiration to get started, try our recipes for Sumac and Fennel Fattoush and Pomegranate-Sumac Chicken with Roasted Carrots. See? We told you it was versatile.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...