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The 6 Best Substitutes for Ground Sumac

The best substitutes for ground sumac are lemon, vinegar, hibiscus, paprika, rose hips, and tamarind. These substitutes have a strong, sharp taste that perfectly mimics the slight acidity ground sumac adds to the food’s flavor profile.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at these ground sumac alternatives.

A bowl of ground sumac

1. Lemon

The flavor of sumac is often compared to lemon because it’s tart and acidic, much like the citrus fruit. For this reason, lemon juice and zest are common alternatives to ground sumac.

Lemon juice is easily obtained by cutting a lemon in half and squeezing it to retrieve the sour liquid. You can use a fine mesh sieve to catch any lemon pulp you don’t want to use in the dish.

Lemon zest is obtained by carefully grating the rind of the fruit with a microplane or a cheese grater. You should zest the lemon first before juicing it. Lime juice and zest can also be great alternatives if you can’t find lemons.

2. Vinegar

Vinegar is made by fermenting different ingredients (usually alcohol) and diluting them with water. Like lemon juice, vinegar is very acidic and has similar uses in cooking. It’s often one of the base ingredients in salad dressings and meat marinades. As well as adding flavor, the acidity also helps tenderize meat.

There are several kinds of vinegar, including but not limited to the following:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar

Related The Best Vinegar for Sandwiches (7 Tasty Options).

3. Hibiscus

Hibiscus is a tropical flower that has a tart flavor similar to sumac. Like sumac, it’s also bright red in color (although some hibiscus flowers are yellow, pink, or white). 

Hibiscus is popularly used to make tea, which can be served either hot or cold. It can also be used in marinades for meats such as beef and lamb. 

Like sumac, Hibiscus’ tartness helps balance out the meat’s richness and fattiness. Fresh flowers are also used as a decorative garnish for desserts and drinks.

4. Paprika

Paprika is a popular spice made from grinding dried red pepper. It’s frequently found in one of three varieties: 

  • Sweet paprika. This variety is derived from sweet peppers. It’s usually sold and labeled as “paprika” without the modifier.
  • Hot paprika. This variant is made from hot peppers
  • Smoked paprika. This type of extracted from smoked and dried peppers. 

Paprika and ground sumac are visually very similar; both are a bright red powder. As well as giving foods a vibrant hue, sweet paprika adds richness to dishes without adding too much heat. This makes it the best of the three varieties to replace ground sumac with if you don’t want too much heat in your dishes.

A bowl of paprika

5. Tamarind

Tamarind is a fruit commonly used in Indian cuisine, although the plant is native to the African continent. The fruit can be dried and ground into a powder similar to sumac. Tamarind fruit can also be used (ripe or unripe) as the basis for pastes and chutneys (a spicy or savory Indian jam).

The flavor is tangy and acidic, making it a good substitute. It has many of the same applications as ground sumac. For instance, it’s commonly used in marinades for meat.

Unfortunately, tamarind can be difficult to find in supermarkets. You may need to purchase it online or in specialty markets, either as whole fruit or in its powdered form.

6. Rose Hips

Rose hips are the fruits rose plants produce if the flowers aren’t picked. They’re typically orange or red, so they add a similar color as ground sumac to whatever you’re trying to spice up. Their flavor is also strikingly similar to ground sumac, making them yet another great alternative.

What Is Ground Sumac Made Of?

Ground sumac is a spice made from the berries of the sumac plant. The berries used to make ground sumac come from the plant Rhus coriaria. It’s more commonly known as tanner’s sumac, but it also goes by the names Sicilian sumac and elm-leaved sumac.

There are many varieties of sumac, many of which are easily identifiable by their bright red leaves. 

Although called Sicilian sumac, it’s believed that the plant originated around Iran or Syria before spreading across Europe. There are also varieties of sumac native to North America. You can grow your own sumac shrubs, but keep in mind that some can grow up to eight feet (2.43 m) tall and require a lot of sunlight.

Some sumac shrubs produce poisonous berries, but their color makes them easy to distinguish from edible sumac. Edible, ripe sumac berries are bright red, while poisonous sumac berries are white.

The berries grow in close, cone-shaped clusters all over the plant. They are usually dried before being ground into a spice. Fresh sumac berries can also be used whole.

What Is Ground Sumac Used For?

Ground sumac has a wide variety of culinary applications. It can be used on its own or combined with other spices. Common combinations include salt, red chili flakes, allspice, and thyme. 

Sumac can add flavor to many dishes or work as a garnish. Due to its deep red color, it also makes food look as well as taste more appealing.

One of ground sumac’s most common applications is as a meat spice. It can be used on beef, chicken, lamb, and fish. Ground sumac can be used as a dry rub. It can also be added to cooking oil and used as a marinade. 

The acidity in sumac helps balance out the richness of the meat, especially if it’s used on a fattier cut. It also aids in tenderizing meat without having to pound it out with a mallet.

Ground sumac is also a good pairing for meatless dishes. It can be added to roasted vegetables such as eggplant and zucchini to make them more savory.

It also works well as an addition to hummus and other dips. It can make a delicious salad dressing when combined with lemon juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Sumac is also a popular souring agent for hearty soups and stews.

Related The 7 Best Ways to Thicken Salad Dressing.

Sumac berries and leaves can be brewed into tea. However, this is only possible with a variety of sumac plants known as “lemonade berry” (its Latin name is Rhus integrifolia).

The drink is produced by steeping its fruit in hot water. It’s very similar in taste to lemonade. This is why the plant it comes from is nicknamed “lemonade berry.” Sumac tea is sometimes referred to as “sumac-ade” and is believed to have medicinal uses, such as soothing a sore throat.

Sumac is the main ingredient in za’atar. Za’atar is a blend of spices commonly used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It contains herbs such as oregano, marjoram, and thyme; it also uses toasted, ground spices such as cumin and coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant). White sesame seeds and salt are also added.

Za’atar spice blend can be purchased pre-made, but you can always create your own at home. Preparing your own za’atar allows you to adjust the ratio of which spices you use to your liking. This also allows you to control how much salt is in your spice blend if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake.

Can Ground Sumac Be Made At Home?

Ground sumac can be easily made at home, although sumac berries may be difficult to find at big-box grocery stores in some places. If you can find the berries in your area, try specialty markets, Middle Eastern grocers, or online retailers.

A mortal and pestle are the most easily accessible equipment you can use to grind sumac berries. Alternatively, you can use an electric spice grinder to pulverize the berries. Sumac berries can be ground fresh or dried, but dried ones will result in a finer powder that will last longer.

If you’re using a mortal pestle, the steps are as follows:

  1. Place the sumac berries into the mortar bowl, at least one tablespoon, but optionally more.
  2. Carefully crush the berries with the rounded end of the pestle.
  3. Using circular motions, grind the berries into as fine a powder as possible.
  4. Strain the sumac through a fine mesh sieve to remove larger pieces that cannot be ground down further. This step is only necessary if your sumac uses require fine powder.

Making ground sumac using an electric spice grinder involves similar steps to using a mortar and pestle:

  1. Place the berries into the grinder and close it.
  2. Hold the button down for 10 to 15 seconds at a time.
  3. When unscrewing the grinder, hold it away from your face so you do not accidentally inhale the finely ground sumac that may float into the air.
  4. Optionally, strain the larger pieces of sumac berries through a sieve as with the mortar and pestle method.

Important: If the instructions that came with your grinder differ from the steps above, prioritize the former. Usage instructions for electric spice grinders may differ depending on the brand and model, and you’re better off sticking to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For more, don’t miss 6 Substitutes for Black Pepper to Spice up Your Cooking.