from the Arabic summaq


Edible part

During Now-Rouz, Iranian new year, which falls on March 21 or 22 depending on the year, Iranian tradition dictates the "haft sin" or seven S's be brought to the table. They are seven symbolic ingredients that include somagh or sumac, a spice often used in making chelo kebabs and a symbol of good life. 

Sumac is a shrub whose leaves turn bright red in the fall, a bit like Canadian maples. 

It produces berries whose color reflects their country of origin, ranging from brick red to brown and purple. The berries contain little brown seeds. 

Other parts of the tree are used to make varnish, laquer and other tannins.

Warning! The sumac that grows in America is an ornamental shrub and is inedible: in fact it is highly toxic! 

Buying and storing 

  • It's best to buy whole seeds to preserve the flavor longer;
  • whole or ground, sumac seeds should be kept in a tightly closed container away from light and heat. 

A marriage of hearts and minds 
an integral ingredient in Iran's chelo kabob : lamb, veal or beef kebabs. 

  • sumac has a sour flavor and can be replaced by lemon in many recipes; 
  • in Lebanon and Syria it is used to flavor fish and seafood; 
  • salads in Iraq and Turkey; 
  • chicken, meatballs, kebabs and stews in Iran and Georgia; 
  • it can be used to flavor stuffings, rice, legumes and breads in general; 
  • combined with yogurt and herbs, it makes an excellent sauce or dip; 
  • it is an ingredient in zahtar, a typically Middle Eastern spice blend. 


  • Not widely known, sumac is an extraordinary spice that enhances the flavors of foods without overpowering them. It plays the same role as salt, but you have to use it more generously. Outside of Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, sumac is generally used ground; 
  • if the berries are whole, they should be opened and soaked in water for about 30 minutes; then the seeds can be placed in cheesecloth and squeezed to extract an aromatic liquid  to use in cooking water or marinade. 

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