Sumac – the local vitamin C spice, and Za’atar.

Sumac is a tangy spice locally available, but not commonly used. It grows everywhere in the northeast and has a sour citrusy flavor enhancing whatever it’s on, reducing the need for salt. Sumac is high in vitamin C and antioxidants – it’s deep red color gives it away. The ground form can be found in natural food stores and Sumac is a tangy spice locally available, but not commonly used. It grows everywhere in the northeast and has a sour citrusy flavor enhancing whatever it’s on, reducing the need for salt. Sumac is high in vitamin C and antioxidants – it’s deep red color gives it away. The ground form can be found in natural food stores and online but it’s easily found in Maine in the woods if you are walking around in the Autumn. Staghorn sumac has velvety branches and red cones that stand up in midsummer to late fall. Avoid the ones by roadways that may have absorbed pollution,  and any sumac with white berries (poison sumac). Dry the cones (made of “drupes”, like raspberries or blackberries) or store them in a paper bag in the fridge. Grind dried drupes in a mortar and pestle and voila! Your own ground dried sumac! Add to lemonade for extra vitamin C tang. You may also  steep 2 T of the drupes from the cone in hot water, or make a sun-tea. This method of tasty and nutritious beverage extraction has been used by Natives in the area for millennia. You can also use the sumac to make Za’atar (ZAH-tuhr), a Middle Eastern spice blend made of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, cumin, salt and pepper, with some variations also adding oregano, coriander and aleppo pepper. (recipe here).  It can be sprinkled on grilled vegetables, meats, grains, cooked vegetables and hummus,  and is frequently seen on Middle Eastern-style toasted breads.