Sumac Substitutes – Alternative Ingredients You Can Use

Published Categorized as Journal, Ingredients Tagged

Sumac is a common spice that adds richness and acidic flavor to any dish it touches. Sumac is not an overused spice and you may have not even heard of it before. Using sumac spice is ideal if you are making middle eastern cuisine but if it is just a rarity, you may want to find a sumac substitute.

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In this article we will explore what kind of ingredients you can use as a substitute for sumac.

Table of Contents

dried sumac

What Can I Use If I Don’t Have Sumac?

Sumac is one of the few spices that actually provides a very tart flavor and has the acidic flavoring of lemon. Some describe the taste of sumac spice to be similar to black or white pepper. Overall, when used in a dish sumac can give the meal a tart, sour and slightly salty taste. Some people can taste these elements in sumac spice but others the tartness of sumac is not that strong. Whether you can taste the sour flavor or not, there is no denying that sumac spice is one hundred percent tangy!

First of all, what is sumac? Sumac is a spice that is made from red berries and is known for its famous bright red color. The berries that are used to make sumac grow in the wild in bushes or on trees. Sumac spice is commonly used in the middle east and can be tasted across middle eastern cuisine. Sumac can be used when cooking fish and chicken but is best known to be used in salad dressing and marinades.

There are plenty of other ingredients that can be used when you have run out of sumac as replacements. Using any other substitutes for sumac spice will not be able to match sumac perfectly as it is hard to find an ingredient that has a tart like taste while also providing a citrus like flavor.

Here are our top recommendation for a sumac subtitle to use within your cooking:

  • Za’atar: Za’atar is commonly confused as being the same as sumac but this is not the case. Sumac is a spice that is made from crushed berries whereas za’atar is made from a mixture of different spices and herbs. Za’atar would actually be commonly referred to as a herb even though it contains spices and herbs. Even though they are different, za’atar would make a great substitute for sumac as they carry a similar taste to dishes, providing an acidic and tart like taste. If you are to use za’atar as a replacement for sumac in a dish, it is best to use an equal amount to what is recommended for sumac. To match the amount is the wisest choice to allow the flavor to be able to influence your food without overpowering the food.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is an interesting substitute for sumac as it is not a spice and in fact a liquid, but it works! It may be a bolder choice but vinegar can provide a tart taste to the dish which will match up to sumac. As vi gar is very strong it is always best to use these ingredients in small amounts and increase once the food has been tasted if needed. With vinegar, a little can go a long away! As well as providing that taste that is very unique to sumac, vinegar is actually great for your body and has a large list of health benefits. If you consume vinegar in regular and small amounts, vinegar can help your body and digestive system control your blood sugar more effectively. Therefore vinegar is a great ingredient to use in your meals daily if you suffer from diabetes.
  • Tamarind: Tamarind is a tropical fruit that can be used as a great alternative for sumac due to it’s tart-like taste. Using tamarind in your cooking can also be super simple and easy as tamarind comes in lots of different forms, making it perfect for a lot of different types of dishes. You can purchase tamarind in whole dried pod form, in a paste or frozen pulps. Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is known for being very sour and very strong. If you are going to use tamarind as a replacement for sumac it is best to use a very small amount as tamarind is highly concentrated and a little goes a long way.
  • Lemon pepper seasoning: Lemon pepper seasoning is one of the most used substitutes for sumac. It is easy to get hold of and super simple to use. Lemon pepper seasoning has a very similar consistency and taste. It can provide a tangy, sour taste that sumac also provides while also matching sumac’s acidity levels. Sumac is famous for its lemony taste but it does provide a saltier note too. Therefore using a lemon pepper seasoning will be the closest match as it will give that lemon acidic taste while also remaining salty, making it slot easily into any recipes where sumac is needed. Lemon pepper seasoning is a mixture of lemon zest and black pepper. It is an easy ingredient to find in your local stores but also very simple to make at home if you wish. If you are wanting to stay traditional to middle eastern cuisine then using lemon pepper seasoning as a replacement for sumac is the best route to go down. This is because lemon is a common ingredient used in middle eastern food to give the food a sour flavoring.
An Eastern Bluebird sits on top of Staghorn Sumac. This little bluebird was seen on the seacoast of New Hampshire, foraging on these plants. Follow on Instagram @wildlife_by_yuri, and find more free plastic pollution photos at:

Is Sumac The Same As Zaatar?

Za’atar is a herb but can mostly be found as a mixture. It is made up of other spices and herbs to create a unique flavor. Commonly za’atar is made from a combination of dried thyme, oregano, marjoram , sumac and sesame seeds. These ingredients provide floral, nutty and rich flavors. Sumac adds an acidity to za’atar and a distinctive tangy taste.

Za’atar and sumac are not the same thing. Sumac is a spice of its own, made from berries that grow on shrubs and small trees. Za’atars natural flavor is very similar to other dried herbs like oregano and is mainly used in Arab cooking.

Za’atar can contain sumac to add a tangy flavor. But is not the same thing as sumac as they both come from different plants. Sumac is a spice whereas Za’atar is a herb.

What Herb Is Similar To Sumac?

If you are wanting to substitute sumac for a herb then we would recommend using ground coriander. Ground coriander has a similar lemon like flavor that sumac has and therefore can provide similar flavorings when cooking. Ground coriander is very different from sumac and will give an earthy, fresh tone when compared to sumac. Many like the added benefits of taste that coriander provides but some people do not enjoy the earthy, herby taste.

An assortment of spices found in Essex Market in Lower East Side.

Sumac Substitute For Fattoush

Fattoush is a dish that is traditionally served with herbal flavors and when made correctly is a refreshing savory meal. Fattoush is also served with ingredients that are naturally quite acidic such as vinegar and sumac. 

Replacing sumac in a fattoush recipe is slightly tricky as sumac adds a lot of flavor to the dish. Sumac proves a lemon like taste which is tart and compliments the other ingredients in fattoush well. Replacing sumac may be tricky but it can be done!

We have found some fantastic replacements for sumac in Fattoush. But be warned, these substitutes are naturally very sour and tart in flavor. They therefore need to be used sparingly to match sumac.

Here is a simple step by step method to make a sumac substitute powder recipe:

You will need:

  • Lemon zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Sprinkle of sea salt

How to Make Sumac Substitute Paste:

  • Step 1: Combine the lemon zest, vinegar, citric acid and salt into a small bowl.
  • Step 2: Use a mortar and pestle to grind up the ingredients until a paste is formed.
  • Step 3: Use straight away or store in the fridge.

Sumac Substitute FAQs

What Spice Is Sumac?

Sumac is a spice that is known for its very bright red coloring. Sumac spice is made from dried berries which give it a tart and slightly sharp flavor. Many people use sumac within savory meals but some countries such as Iran will use sumac as a condiment, just like salt and black pepper.

There Are A Variety Of Subtitles That You Can Use For Sumac

There are a lot of ingredients that can be used as a subtitle for the spice sumac. The most popular substitute for sumac is lemon pepper seasoning. It matches sumac’s lemon taste, salty flavoring, acidity and texture. There are other ingredients that can be used to replace sumac – such as coriander and vinegar – that can all be found in your kitchen cupboard.

Substituting sumac is a an easy task. You just have to remember that these ingredients are strong in taste and therefore a little goes a long way.

Check out more blog posts about substitutes on the blog!

By Anna

Anna Brooks, the voice behind, is a seasoned writer and editor with an insatiable love for food. While not a professional chef, her culinary adventures and unique insights have captivated readers for years. Anna believes in the transformative power of food, stating it "feeds the soul." Dive into her writings for a mix of inspiration, entertainment, and culinary wisdom. Author Pinterest Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Tumblr Reddit Quora

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