Sumac is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine that has a unique tangy flavor that can elevate any dish. However, finding sumac at your local grocery store might not always be possible.
As a professional with extensive knowledge of spices and their uses, I understand the importance of having the right ingredients in your spice rack.
This blog post will explore suitable sumac substitutes you can use in your cooking. I’ll discuss different ways to add sumac flavor to your dishes without actually using the spice itself. You'll learn about the taste profile of sumac and how it blends with other ingredients.
If you're wondering what spice blend would work well as a ground sumac substitute, I’ve got you covered! I’ll provide an ingredient list for each substitute so that you can easily find them at your local supermarket.
By the end of this post, you'll be equipped with all the knowledge needed on finding suitable replacements when there's no way to get hold of authentic ground or whole berry sumacs!
What Is Sumac?
Sumac is an aromatic spice made from the dried berries of certain species of shrubs native to North Africa and the Middle East. The most popular variety is Rhus coriaria which has deep red-purple berries with a sour taste when ground into powder form.
The flavor profile is similar to lemon zest with notes of tartness and bitterness that add complexity to savory dishes as well as sweet desserts.
Why Do You Need a Substitute for Sumac?
Sumac is a popular spice used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking, but it may not be available everywhere. Even if you do have access to it, there are other reasons why you might need a substitute for sumac spice.
Some people cannot eat certain spices due to allergies or religious beliefs. For example, those who keep kosher must avoid mixing meat and dairy products together. This means that they cannot use any spices that contain dairy ingredients such as butter or cream cheese when preparing meals with both types of food.
Sumac also contains lactose which makes it off-limits for these individuals so they must look for an alternative ingredient instead.
Everyone has different taste preferences when it comes to food some people simply don’t like the flavor of sumac. On the other hand, some may want something more exotic than what’s already on hand in their pantry.
If this is the case then substituting another type of spice can help create new flavors without having to buy an entirely new set of ingredients from the store.
Sumac can be expensive depending on where you live and how much you purchase at once so finding a cheaper substitute for ground sumac could save you money in the long run especially if you plan on using it often in your recipes.
10 Best Sumac Substitutes
1. Lemon Juice
This tart and tangy citrus substitute is a great alternative to sumac, as it has a similar flavor profile and can be used in the same way. Try adding one tablespoon of lemon juice per teaspoon of sumac called for in your recipe.
Best for salads, marinades, or sauces.
2. Pomegranate Molasses
This sweet-tart syrup is made from reduced pomegranate juice and adds a rich depth of flavor to dishes that you would normally use sumac in. Use two tablespoons per teaspoon called for in your dish—but keep in mind that this ingredient does have quite strong flavors so use sparingly until you get the desired effect!
Best for stews, braises, or dressings.
3. Red Wine Vinegar
With its slightly acidic taste this vinegar is an excellent replacement for sumac as it will add some complexity without overpowering the dish with too much acidity.
Use half a teaspoon of red wine vinegar for every one teaspoon of sumac called for in a recipe.
Best for salad dressings or marinades.
4. Balsamic Vinegar
The sweetness of balsamic vinegar makes it an ideal choice for replacing sumac when making recipes that require more subtlety than red wine vinegar offers on its own.
Use ½ teaspoon of balsamic vinegar for every teaspoon of sumac called for in a recipe. Keep in mind that balsamic vinegar has a sweet and tangy flavor, so it may not be an exact replacement for the tart and lemony flavor of sumac.
Best for vinaigrettes, sauces, and dishes from Middle Eastern cuisine.
5. White Wine Vinegar
Like red wine vinegar but milder in flavor, white wine vinegar can be used as a substitute for sumac when making light sauces or dressings where you don’t want too much acidity coming through but still need something to give your dish some zing!
Use ½ teaspoon of white wine vinegar as a substitute for every one teaspoon of sumac called for in a recipe.
Best for marinades, tomato-based sauces, and salad dressings.
6. Tamarind Paste
This paste provides a unique sweet-sour balance that works well as an alternative to sumac in curries and other savory dishes requiring a sour element such as chutneys and pickles.
Use a pinch of tamarind to the amount of sumac you're substituting. Start small and continue adding until you reach the intensity you want.
Best for marinades, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine sauces, chutneys, and salsas.
7. Lime Juice
Lime juice packs plenty of punch just like sumac does, so if you're looking for something with lots of flavors then lime juice should do the trick! Add the same amount of lime juice as you would sumac to your dish.
Best for salsas, soups, stir-fries, and tacos.
8. Rice Wine Vinegar
Rice wine vinegar has quite a different flavor profile compared to regular kinds of vinegar. It's sweeter yet still slightly acidic, so if you're looking for something less intense than lemon juice then rice wine could work really well!
Use half the amount of rice wine vinegar that of sumac. If the recipe needs 1 teaspoon, start small and use ½ instead.
Best for Asian-style sauces, marinades, glazes, and salad dressings.
9. Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce may sound strange at first but trust us—it actually works surprisingly well! Its fruity sweetness helps balance out any bitterness from other ingredients while providing enough tartness and texture to make up what would otherwise be missing from using plain sugar alone.
Best for barbecue sauces, marinades, and cream cheese- or yogurt-based dips.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar isn't just great on salads, it also makes a fantastic substitute for sumac in cooking savory dishes. Its natural sweetness complements these types of foods perfectly.
Just like white wine vinegar, use ½ teaspoon of white wine vinegar as a substitute for every one teaspoon of sumac.
Best for roasted vegetables, slow-cooked meats, dipping sauces, and other savory dishes.
Sumac Substitute FAQs
What is the best sumac seasoning substitute?
It can be difficult to find outside of specialty stores or online retailers. A good sumac spice substitute is lemon zest combined with either paprika or cumin depending on the desired flavor profile.
A combination of lemon zest and either paprika or cumin can provide an earthy, smoky taste that resembles sumac without being too intense. For a similar flavor profile, lemon juice and oregano or thyme may also be used as an alternative to sumac.
What can I use instead of sumac in Zaatar?
If you're unable to obtain sumac, Zaatar can still be made with a range of alternatives. Dried thyme and oregano make great ground sumac substitutes as they both have a similar earthy flavor profile.
For a more intense flavor, you could also opt for marjoram or sesame seeds. For an even more intense flavor, you could add cumin powder or ground coriander to your mix. Lastly, lemon zest can be used to replace sumac's citrus notes and add brightness to the dish.
Can I substitute tamarind for sumac?
No, tamarind and sumac are not interchangeable. Tamarind is a fruit native to tropical Africa that has a sweet-sour flavor profile. Tamarind can be employed to add flavor to sauces, curries, chutneys, marinades, and jams.
Sumac is an aromatic Middle Eastern spice made from the dried berries of the Rhus coriaria shrub. Its tartness makes it popular for flavoring salads and fish dishes as well as stews or soups with lentils or beans.
Consequently, these two components have dissimilar tastes that can't be exchanged without drastically altering the flavor of your meal.
What spices complement sumac?
Sumac can be employed to give savory meals, such as salads or stews, a zesty flavor. To balance the acidity of sumac, try adding sweet spices like cinnamon or allspice.
Aromatic herbs like oregano and thyme are also good choices for pairing with sumac. Experimenting with different combinations will help you find the perfect blend for your recipes.
What Sumac Substitute Should You Try?
Sumac is a rare seasoning that may be hard to locate in numerous regions. However, there are plenty of sumac spice substitutes available so you don't have to miss out on its flavor and aroma.
From balsamic and red wine vinegar to lemon juice and tamarind paste, these 10 alternatives will give your dishes an amazing taste without sacrificing any quality or authenticity. With this knowledge about sumac substitute options at hand, you should now feel more confident when cooking with it.
Try our recipes and guides at Also the Crumbs Please to find the perfect substitute for ground sumac for your next meal! Learn how to make delicious, air fryer-friendly dishes without sacrificing flavor.
Best Sumac Substitutes
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
Option 1: Lemon Juice
- Add one tablespoon of lemon juice for every teaspoon of sumac mentioned in your recipe.
Option 2: Red Wine Vinegar
- For every teaspoon of sumac required in your recipe, you can use half a teaspoon of red wine vinegar.
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