Unless you like cooking Middle Eastern food, you may have never heard of sumac. This mighty spice, though, is essential in many dishes that you surely have tried before. That’s why, when a recipe calls for it, you need to know what other foods or ingredients to use in its place.
What Is Sumac?
This spice is the dry flower of a common plant from the Middle East and Africa. It resembles a wild berry, but it is nothing like it. The flavor is dry and sour, which adds zest to many meals, including rice, chicken, fish, and other grains.
While it is not a mainstream spice, you can find it in most Middle Eastern food stores, as it is essential in these cuisines. When you do find it, it will most likely be in a powder form and you can recognize it because of its bright red color.
What Can I Replace Sumac With?
Since it is difficult to find and can be expensive, use these sumac substitutes instead for any dish you want to prepare:
For Cooking, Fattoush, and Soup
#1. Lemon Pepper Seasoning
Since this seasoning is tangy and spicy, it makes for a great replacement for sumac. This seasoning is simply dried lemon zest and black pepper. You can find lemon pepper seasoning in any grocery or convenience store.
If you prefer, you can make the mix at home, simply by using dehydrated lemon zest and black pepper. We recommend you use half the amount that the recipe requires, as it can be a bit too citrusy for your dish. Use this seasoning when cooking fattoush, soups, hummus, and more.
This spice blend already has sumac in it, which is why it makes sense to use it as a substitute. Za’atar also contains sesame seeds, salt, and other dried herbs. You can find this option in Middle Eastern food stores, but you may have some luck in small grocery or organic stores.
Use za’atar when cooking lamb, chicken, fattoush, soups, and hummus. If you want to use this choice instead of sumac, add the same amount of za’atar that the recipe calls for.
You may want to consider the other herbs in za’atar, as they may overpower some of the ingredients in your dish.
#3. Lemon Juice
Since this option is sweet and tart, it can work well in plenty of dishes that require sumac. You probably already have lemons at home, but if you don’t, they are available in any grocery and convenience store.
Use lemon juice when you are cooking meat, rice, fattoush, soups, and when making hummus.
To substitute for one teaspoon of sumac, add about ⅓ teaspoon of lemon juice. It is always better to taste as you go, and add more if needed. To balance out, you can add a bit of black or Aleppo pepper as well.
See More: Lemon Juice Substitutes
For Curry, Baking, Marinades, and Fish
This tropical fruit is common in the Caribbean and Indian dishes, but it can also be used in place of sumac. Since it is tart and slightly sweet, you can use tamarind paste when making curry, when baking, in marinades, and fish dishes.
While it is not extremely common, tamarind is widely available in most grocery or organic stores.
Usually, tamarind paste, powder, or pulp is very tart, so you will only need a very small amount. Start by adding a little and mixing, then you can taste, and add more if necessary. Be careful not to add it in excess or your meal will turn extremely sour.
While it may seem odd, when you need a quick solution, vinegar may do the trick. You can use apple cider vinegar to get a bit of sweetness too, but use only a few drops so you can’t overpower the rest of the ingredients.
Use vinegar when preparing curry, marinades, fish dishes, and if you are baking.
You can find apple cider vinegar in almost every grocery store or organic store. If you can’t find apple cider vinegar, use rice wine vinegar instead. If you need to, add a bit of sweetness to the dish as well to counterbalance the tartness.
See More: Vinegar Shelf Life
This spice is common in Indian, Middle Eastern, and African foods, so it is also an option if you want to substitute sumac. Cumin, however, has an earthy, warm, and citrus flavor, which makes it a bit more pungent.
You can use this spice when cooking curry, fish, when baking, and making marinades.
You can find cumin in any grocery or organic store, usually by the spice rack. You can use the same amount of cumin as you would sumac, but consider that this spice is more pungent so you may alter the final flavor.
See More: Cumin Alternatives
Yes, you can use sumac in place for Za’atar, but you may want to add more herbs and salt. The opposite is also true, so if you need to replace sumac, use a bit of Za’atar. Since Za’atar also contains sumac, it can be a good option to use in its place.
No, sumac is very different from turmeric. Turmeric is a bit bitter and pungent, and has a very bright yellow and orange color. Sumac, on the other hand, is tangier and almost lemony, so it won’t resemble the flavor of turmeric at all.
Sumac may not be widely available in all grocery stores, but if it is, you can try the spice rack or international food aisle. If you can’t find it at grocery stores, try going to a Middle Eastern or Indian food or specialty store.
Since sumac is a common spice in many Middle Eastern dishes, you may have seen it before. However, using it can be a bit more complicated, as it is not always readily available. If this is the case and you still want to make your favorite dishes, then try any of these 6 alternatives for similar flavors.
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