Lebanon's favourite spice?
One half of shorkk wouldn’t put anything else on fried eggs! So what is it about this spice that generates so much affection? For many its that citrusy kick, that lemony pop in the mouth and a touch of acidity which is essential in many Lebanese dishes. It’s a key ingredient in za’atar, the mixture made from oregano flowering tips and roasted sesame seeds which is spread generously on manoushé, flat bread, with olive oil. A popular breakfast many have each day.
Where does it come from?
The rhus coriaria, as sumac is otherwise known, grows wild throughout Lebanon. A shrub which reaches 2 metres high, it has heavy clusters of berries which turn deep red at the end of the summer. Families gather these clusters and spread them on a clean cloth to “ripen” in the sun. Once the colour of the berries is dark red, the outer layer of the skin is rubbed away from the tiny stone. Gloves are worn, as the berry is very astringent. The mixture is then sifted, to remove the stone, and left once more in the sun to dry completely.
new to the UK?
Thanks to the popularity of Middle Eastern food in the UK, sumac is now available in our supermarkets. Although it has to be said that Zejd sumac, grown in Beino, in the north of Lebanon, tastes totally different to a generic sumac. According to Professor Daniel Newman translator of The Sultan’s Feast: A 15th century cookbook, sumac was brought to these shores by the Romans. For some reason, sumac disappeared from our culinary lexicon until it was reintroduced by Ottolenghi and other chefs inspiring the UK with ingredients from the eastern Mediterranean.
good for your health
Sumac has been used for its health properties in the eastern Mediterranean for many years. Rich in antioxidants, its fat content is both monounsaturated (oleic acid) and polyunsaturated (linoleic acid).