Sumac is any one of approximately 250 species of flowering plant in the genus Rhus. They are shrubs and small trees that can reach a height of 1-10 metres (3.3-33 ft). The leaves are spirally arranged; they are usually pinnately compound, though some species have trifoliate or simple leaves. The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5-30 centimetres (2.0-12 in) long, each flower very small, greenish, creamy white or red, with five petals. The fruits form dense clusters of reddish drupes called sumac bobs. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy purple spice. This spice 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. The drupes of the genus Rhus are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat.
How to select
While buying whole sumac berries, opt for ones which appear in dense clusters. Individual berries are small, round, 10 mm (1/4") in diameter, russet coloured and covered with hairs .The berries can be dried and crushed to form a coarse purple-red powder. Ready to use ground sumac powder should be checked for expiry date and any sign of lumpiness or discolouration.
" The sumac berries can be dried, ground and sprinkled into the cooking, or macerated in hot water and mashed to release their juice, the resulting liquid being used as one might use lemon juice
" 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
" In Arabic cuisine, its is used as a garnish on meze dishes such as Hummous and is added on salads in the Levant.
" In Persian (Iranian) cuisine, sumac is added to rice or kabob. In Turkish cuisine, for example, it is added to salad-servings of kebabs and lahmacun.
" In North America, the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) are sometimes used to make a beverage termed "sumac-ade," "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it.
How to store
Ground sumac keeps well if kept away from light and air.
" 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
" Some species, such as Poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron, syn.Toxicodendron radicans) etc have the allergen urushiol and can cause severe allergic reactions.