If you’ve ever walked through the spice aisle and noticed a jar with the word “sumac” on it, you might have been a bit confused. Isn’t that just another name for poison ivy? There’s no need to worry — this bright red ingredient won’t cause you to break out in itchy rashes like the toxic plant we all try our best to avoid on camping trips. In fact, sprinkling it on your meals will actually give you a delicious health boost!
The spice comes from small sumac trees found across the globe, but particularly in East Asia, Africa, and here in the US. The berries are dried out and ground into the vibrant grains that fill spice jars.
According to a study from 2014, it’s not just our taste buds that can benefit from the tart spice. Researchers observed a small group of people who added just three grams of sumac to their daily diet for three months and found that it made them less susceptible to cardiovascular disease. They also saw a significant decrease in insulin, making it especially beneficial for someone with diabetes.
Michigan State University claims wild sumac was used by indigenous Americans to treat colds, fevers, and create salves for wounds. The spice has been shown to help soothe problems like diarrhea, sore throats, asthma, and cold sores. It's also packed with a ton of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a potent weapon against free radicals that cause cancer, heart disease, and signs of aging. More studies need to be done to verify all of those benefits, but there’s no harm in enjoying the flavor and potential perks in the meantime.
Sumac has been a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes for centuries. It’s usually found in za’atar spice mixes alongside oregano, thyme, sesame seeds, and marjoram, but you can experiment with adding it to your recipes all on its own. It adds a tangy, bright taste similar to lemon juice, which can help liven up a meal without worrying about lemon seeds sneaking onto your plate. It's great for sprinkling on top of any recipe you'd like to add a little extra zing to, like grilled chicken, fresh salads, or roasted veggies. According to Health magazine, sumac is particularly yummy when combined with mint.
The next time you spy this colorful spice in your grocery store or while shopping online ($6.75, Amazon), don’t be afraid to add it to your cart for a scrumptiously easy way to add some heart-healthy benefits to your meals!
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