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The Health Benefits of Sumac Spice

Your spice rack is already stocked with rosemary and garlic powder, but there's another spice you should make room for—sumac. Discover the benefits of sumac spice and how the tart, earthy spice can take your dishes—and your health—up a notch.

What Is Sumac?

If you immediately thought, "poison ivy? No, thanks," not to worry. Although, some species of the plant are poisonous, the superfood spice version we're talking about here comes from the berries of the Rhus coriaria plant and is totally safe to eat. "It's a versatile spice with a tangy, lemony, but also fruity flavor," says Dawn Lerman, MA, CHHC, LCAT, a board-certified nutrition expert. The fruit's berries form in dense clusters on bushes, which are native to the Middle East. "They're then dried into a tangy purplish or maroon spice that's high in antioxidants," Lerman says. It can be found in whole berry form, but more often you'll find it in spice markets as a powder.

The Health Benefits of Sumac

Antioxidants are one of the biggest health benefits of sumac spice, says Despina Hyde, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Sumac ranks very high on the ORAC chart, which ranks foods' antioxidant capacity," she says. "That's the ability to neutralize the free radicals that can cause cancer, heart disease, and signs of aging." These antioxidants also make sumac a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet, which can ward off illnesses like coronary heart disease, says Kristen Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Sumac has been shown to have a positive effect on diabetes patients. One study found that daily intake of the superfood for a period of three months lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease among participants with type 2 diabetes.

How to Eat Sumac

Use it as a rub on chicken or fish, in a marinade or dressing, or sprinkle the spice on hummus, suggests Lerman. You could also add sumac to yogurt or to season sweet potato fries or chips. It's tasty in beverages, too, from sumac lemonade and You can even make a natural cough syrup, which you can make by boiling sumac, water, and a little honey, says Lerman. Want something a little more refreshing? Try the lemonade recipe below.

Sumac Lemonade

Ingredients:
Sumac Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons ground sumac

Sumac Lemonade

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sumac syrup
  • lemon juice
  • ice

Sumac Syrup Directions:
1. Combine water and honey in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.

2. Stir in sumac and infuse until cool, at least 10 minutes.

3. Strain and store in an airtight container.

Sumac Lemonade Directions:
1. Combine water or sparkling water with sumac syrup, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

2. Add ice and stir.

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