Sumac comes from the berries of a wild bushy shrub that thrives in poor soils and grows wild in all Mediterranean areas and parts of the Middle East. The highest quality sumac berries comes from higher altitude areas.
Native range Mediterranean Region, Middle East Region, Central Asia
Major producers Sicily, Southern Italy, Turkey, Iran
Harvesting In autumn the clusters of red sumac berries are picked just before they fully ripen. The berries are then dried in the sun and crushed to form a coarse purple-red powder.
Taste and aroma Sumac has a mild, aromatic aroma. The taste is sour, fruity, and astringent. Sumac brings out the flavours of the food to which it is added, much the same as salt does.
Culinary uses Sumac is an essential ingredient in cuisine from the Middle East (especially Lebanon) and Turkey, where it is used as a major souring agent (where other regions would employ lemon, tamarind, or vinegar) and as a condiment. It is rubbed on to kebabs before grilling and may be used in this way with fish or chicken. The juice extracted from sumac is popular in salad dressings and marinades and the powdered form is used in stews and vegetable and chicken casseroles. Sumac can be mixed with yoghurt and fresh herbs to make a dipping sauce or side dish.
Other uses In the Middle East sumac is used to make a drink for anyone suffering from an upset stomach, and to treat fevers and bowel complaints. Historical uses The Romans used sumac berries as a souring agent.
Storage Whole sumac berries can last for a year or more, Ground sumac should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place and will last for several months.