There are several berries of the genus Rhus that lend their tart flavor to culinary use, JungMann says, and all are commonly called sumac. The dark red sumac you might buy ground from a Middle Eastern grocery store is probably Rhus coriaria, JungMann says. Commonly known as Sicilian sumac, it grows wild all around the Middle East. It is harvested during periods of low rainfall, which improves the flavor, JungMann says. The tart citrus flavor adds brightness to roast chicken, and is welcome sprinkled liberally on tzatziki or cucumber salads, Caitlin McGrath says. It’s a condiment that deserves to be used like salt and pepper, JungMann says: sprinkled on roasted potatoes or vegetables, dusted over hummus, added to lamb kebabs or meat pies, or mixed with olive oil and slathered on bread.

The sumac berries grown here in the Midwest and brewed as a tisane are Rhus typhina, JungMann says; their common name is staghorn sumac, according to Eldon Kreider. They make a tart, lemony drink, tardigrade says.

If you’re harvesting your sumac anywhere but the grocery store, be aware that the genus Rhus also includes species that can cause skin irritation. Be positive of your identification before touching the plant! (Source: USDA, Plants Profile for Rhus (sumac))

Discuss: Sumac, the spice and the shrub

Photo by Flickr member Muffet under Creative Commons

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