Answering Your Cooking FAQs: What is Sumac and How do I Use It?

The words 'What is Sumac and How Do I Use It?' appear on a berry-themed background, with the Pinch of Nom logo above.

Have you ever wondered, what exactly is sumac? Tangy and citrusy, you’ll find this flavourful ingredient in spice rubs, marinades, salad dressings and (in some countries) enjoyed all on its own as a condiment. 

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What is sumac used for?

You might already have a tiny jar of sumac at home and be asking…what should I use it for? The first thing to know about sumac is that it isn’t spicy. It’s a tangy, lemony flavour enhancer that’s used in kitchens worldwide to give a Middle Eastern-style boost to potatoes, rice, salads, meat, fish and more!

You’ll be able to find it in the herbs and spices aisle at most supermarkets, or on Amazon

Made from lip-smacking dried berries that grow in the Mediterranean, you can count on a sprinkle of sumac to give your cooking a punchy lift. A good rule of thumb is to use it in vibrant dishes where you’d normally find lemon or lime. 

Like most spices, sumac is extremely slimming friendly (it’s only 8 calories per teaspoon), so it’s perfect to have some culinary fun with.

To get you started, we’ve gathered together recipes that either make the most of sumac already, or would pair well with the latest addition to your spice rack. 

For more spice-related hints and tips:

1. Use sumac to season lamb

You’ve probably heard about pairing sumac with lamb. It’s one of those heavenly combinations that never disappoints, even if it is delightfully simple.

Tucking into a portion of Sumac Lamb Chops is a great way to introduce your taste buds to a succulent, sumac-infused dish. We’ve loved them for so long, they’re even in our very first cookbook (grab your copy from the shelf and turn to pages 114-115).

We’ve used a nifty combination of low-calorie ingredients to create a marinade that leaves the lamb chops flavourful and juicy after cooking. 

You’ll swirl together fat-free Greek yoghurt, cumin, oregano, tomato puree and (of course) sumac to give this recipe its magic!

8 of Pinch of Nom's Sumac Lamb Chops are on a large serving plate, on a white, striped tablecloth. Charred lemon wedges are nestled amongst the chops.

Preparing a homemade spice rub is a fabulous, lower-calorie way to add flavour – and it’s good for your budget to make the most of what’s already on your spice rack.

Our Sumac Lamb Chops with Rainbow Couscous is packed with the colourful, citrus flavours you’d expect to taste on a summer holiday. You only need one small teaspoon of sumac to give the marinade its signature zing.

With tangy reduced-fat feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and fresh mint stirred into the bed of fluffy couscous that the chops are served on, there’s no shortage of Middle Eastern influence here. 

The whole fakeaway dish (couscous included) comes to just 538 calories – that’s ideal for an indulgent night-in! 

Pinch of Nom's Sumac Lamb Chops and Rainbow Couscous are served on a bright blue plate; 4 charred chops are resting on a bed of rainbow-coloured couscous.

2. Use sumac to season chicken

Sumac works just as well paired with chicken, especially if we’re talking about juicy chicken thighs. You’ll need a good-sized mixing bowl to combine the marinade ingredients for our Chilli Sumac Chicken Thighs.

Rather than fresh seeds, we’ve swirled pomegranate molasses with sumac, garlic, tomato puree, chilli flakes and sriracha. If you’ve never used pomegranate molasses before, it’s a syrup that’s made from pomegranate seeds, and it acts as a really tasty alternative to using vinegars for Middle Eastern-inspired dishes.

Our recipe recommends letting the sumac-chilli marinade soak into the chicken thighs for an hour in the fridge before cooking, but you can leave them longer or overnight, if you’d prefer stronger, more fiery flavours.

Pinch of Nom's Chilli Sumac Chicken Thighs are scattered over a yellow serving board with Mediterranean-style roasted vegetables in a bowl to the side.

We did warn you that not every dish on this list would feature sumac by default! We also want to show you that it’s easier than you might think to adapt existing recipes to include sumac, especially if lemon is already a featured ingredient.

Our Lemon and Garlic Chicken Traybake is beautiful because it’s a dream to throw together with minimum effort, and you’ll get maximum flavours in return. Nestle fresh, sliced lemon wedges in with the veg, and then let your oven release the juices for you.

Why not ramp up the citrus flavours even more by adding a sprinkling of sumac, right before tossing everything together to bake? You could even add some crumbled reduced-fat feta, to cut through the garlic-lemon glaze.

Pinch of Nom's Lemon and Garlic Chicken Traybake is fresh from the oven in a baking tray; the chicken thighs are golden and juicy, the vegetables are browned and the lemon slices are charred.

If you do have fun adding or swapping recipe ingredients, make sure to adjust the calories if you’re keeping track.

3. Use sumac to liven up salads

Salads are never boring with sumac on the ingredients list. The sumac we’ve added to the spice rub for our Herby Lemon Chicken Salad brings oodles of tartness to the table, to make the leafy greens all the more satisfying.

Ready in 10 minutes, after following just 5 simple steps, it’s well worth cracking open the sumac to add this Everyday Light lunch to your meal plan. 

If you do rustle it up, please don’t forget to share it with us on your Instagram story or in our Facebook group – as long as you tag us, we’ll definitely see it!

2 portions of Pinch of Nom's Herby Lemon Chicken Salad are served on stripy dinnerware with bright cutlery, with fresh glasses of water to the side. The sliced chicken lies on top of the colourful veggies with a lemon wedge waiting to be squeezed on top.

So far we’ve only covered meaty sumac recipes, but that doesn’t mean vegetarian-only sumac creations can’t be sensational too! Our Imam Bayildi is a scrummy example of a zesty, plant-based main that’s low in calories, delicious and filling.

Similar to a jacket spud, the aubergine in this recipe acts like a bowl that holds and absorbs the flavours from the tomatoey, sumac-infused filling while it’s baking in the oven. It pairs so nicely with a fresh side salad, brown rice or quinoa!

Pinch of Nom's Imam Bayildi is fresh form the oven on a baking tray; one portion is served up on a plate with a fresh, mixed salad and a fluffy basmati rice.

If you ask us, aubergine is underrated! We’ve got plenty more aubergine-based recipes you can try here.

4. Use sumac to liven up couscous

You can’t talk about sumac without talking about couscous. Combine softened, oven-roasted veggies, fluffed-up couscous grains and a zesty sprinkling of sumac and herbs, and you’re onto a side dish winner.

The proof is in the pudding (or rather, the salad bowl) with our Jewelled Giant Couscous recipe. This rainbow-coloured creation takes inspiration from Moroccan cuisine, and is best served with an ice cold drink on a warm summer’s day.

We think giant couscous works best for this recipe, but you can use normal couscous instead, if you’ve got some at home that needs using up.

Plate up a serving at your next barbecue or buffet and watch it go down a storm!

Pinch of Nom's Jewelled Giant Couscous is served on a large bright pink serving dish piled high with plenty of colourful vegetables visibly stirred through.

5. Use sumac to make potatoes tastier

You’ll notice that sumac has a bright-red colouring that makes it look similar to paprika or chilli powder, which is why many assume it has a kick of spice to it. Rather than a fiery heat, sumac gives the spice mix for our Za’atar Fries a lemony lift that’ll have you coming back for more.

The best part about the spice mix for this recipe is that it can go so much further. You can save leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for at least a year, ready to take chicken, lamb or veg up a notch in a pinch.

An aromatic alternative to serving up plain Homemade Oven Chips, try these crispy chippies with our Lentil Falafel Burgers from Express (trust us, it’s the perfect pairing – they’re on pages 240-243).

3 portions of Pinch of Nom's Homemade Oven Chips are served in white and red striped paper cones with small dishes of ketchup and mayo to the side for dipping.

We’ve got a whole roundup of cheap and easy spice blends you can make in a flash here.

6. Use sumac to enhance soups and dips

Our Hummus-Style Dip is delicious as it is, but there’s nothing to stop you adding half a teaspoon (or more) of sumac, if you’re growing to love its citrusy flavour. To keep our version slimming friendly, we’ve blitzed drained butter beans in a food processor until silky smooth (but you can use chickpeas, if you’d prefer).

We absolutely love snacking on this hummus with dippable veg sticks (carrots or celery work a treat), or you always can spread it onto toast and sandwiches.

Pinch of Nom's Hummus-Style Dip in a small brown bowl garnished with chopped spring onions and seasoning; a sliced wholemeal pitta bread and cucumber wedges are waiting to be dipped on the side.

If you love hummus so much you could eat a whole bowlful, your prayers are answered with our Hummus Soup! Already bursting with garlic and lemon, there’s no doubt that a touch of sumac would take things to an even tastier level.

It’s all topped with a garnish of crunchy, oven-baked, golden brown chickpeas…now’s your cue to grab a crusty bread roll!

Pinch of Nom's Hummus Soup served in a bowl with crispy-looking golden chickpeas scattered on top.

There are lots of other tasty ways to make the most of sumac, but we hope these ideas will help you get started.

Which sumac recipe are you making first?

Whether you’re adding zing to a midday bowl of soup, or looking to give dinnertime a citrus punch, we can’t wait to hear all about the fun you have getting to know sumac. 

Share photos from your kitchen to our Facebook group; it’s the best place to go to interact with the (almost) 1 million lovely community members waiting to support you on your slimming journey.

If you’re still on the hunt for inspiration, stop off at our Gallery next. You’ll want to sign up to a free website account to upload and share your photos (it’s really simple, and we’ve got a step-by-step guide you can follow).

If you liked this article, there’s more where that came from. Keep exploring our blog to browse for recipe ideas, kitchen equipment recommendations, money-saving tips and more.

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