Other Names: Elm-leafed sumac; gewürzsumach (German); kankrasing (Hindi); shumac; Sicilian sumac; somagh (Farsi); sommacco (Italian); soumaki (Greek); sumac (French); sumak (Turkish); sumaq (Hebrew); summaq (Arabic); zumaque (Spanish).

General Description: The dried fruits of sumac (Rhus coriaria) are burgundy red and quite tart, with resinous, woody, and citrus notes. Sumac berries, which are not true berries, have a thin outer skin and flesh surrounding an extremely hard seed. Dried sumac is usually sold ground into a deep purplish red powder that is coarse-textured and moist with a fruity, tangy aroma and a salty aftertaste from the salt added as a preservative. Sumac trees grow wild in the Mediterranean and are found in much of the Middle East. Sumac is a popular condiment in Turkey and Iran, where it’s liberally sprinkled on kebabs and rice or mixed with onions as an appetizer or salad. In Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, sumac is cooked with water to a thick sour paste, which is added to meat and vegetable dishes; this method was also common in Roman times. Sumac appears in the Jordanian spice mixture za’atar and is also used in North Africa. In North America, native tribes made a sour drink from related species called lemonade sumac, squash berries, or sugar bush.

Season: Sumac may occasionally be sold fresh in late summer, but usually it’s found dried.

Purchase and Avoid: The best sumac will have deep brick red to burgundy color, coarse uniform texture, and a high ratio of flesh to pulverized stem and seed. Purchase sumac from a Middle Eastern grocery or a spice dealer.

Note: Several related plants of the genus Rhus are used as ornamentals in Europe and in North America. While these are mostly harmless, they may be mildly toxic and are not the same as the sumac used as a spice. The closely related New World genus Toxicodendron, formerly Rhus, contains highly toxic plants that are often referred to as sumac, including poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The fruits of Toxicodendron species are white to pale gold, not red.

Serving Suggestions: Sprinkle sumac on lamb or beef kebabs. Garnish hummus, baba ghanouj, or tomato, parsley, and onion salad with a sprinkle of sumac. • Put crushed garlic cloves inside a chicken, dust all over with sumac, season with salt and pepper, and roast.

Food Affinities: Almond, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lemon, mint, olive oil, pine nut, red onion, scallion, sesame, tomato, winter squash, yogurt, zucchini.

from Quirk Books: