Sumac comes from the berries of a wild bush that grows wild in all Mediterranean areas, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, and parts of the Middle East, notably Iran. It is an essential ingredient in Arabic cooking, being preferred to lemon for sourness and astringency. Many other varieties of sumac occur in temperate regions of the world. In North America Rhus glabra is known for its use in the tanning industry and for its medicinal properties. Also in North America is the related Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) which can cause a severe skin reaction when touched.
Cooking with Sumac
Sumac is used widely in cookery in Arabia, Turkey and the Levant, and especially in Lebanese cuisine. In these areas it is a major souring agent, used where other regions would employ lemon
he juice extracted from sumac is popular in salad dressings and marinades and the powdered form is used in stews and vegetable and chicken casseroles. “The seed of Sumac eaten in sauces with meat, stopper all manner of fluxes of the belly…”
Za’atar is a blend of sumac and thyme use to flavour labni, a cream cheese made from yogurt.
Health Benefits of Sumac
The berries have diuretic properties, and are used in bowel complaints and for reducing fever. In the Middle East, a sour drink is made from them to relieve stomach upsets.
Plant Description and Cultivation
A bushy shrub of the Anacardiaceae family, reaching to 3m (10 ft). It has light gray or reddish stems which exude a resin when cut. Young branches are hairy. The leaves are hairy on the underside. In autumn the leaves turn to a bright red. White flowers are followed by conical clusters of fruit, each enclosed in a reddish brown hairy covering.
Elm-leafed Sumac, Sicilian Sumac, Sumach, Sumak, Summak, Tanner’s Sumach