Tart, sweet, complex, and colorful: Middle Eastern Sumac has been touted as one of this year’s biggest ingredients, and it’s exactly what you need in your next cocktail.
Before we get into how to use it in your next cocktail, let’s talk about its origins and history! Sumac has been used across the Middle East and Mediterranean since about 2,000 years ago – ancient Romans used it to add tang to their cooking as lemons had not made their way to Europe yet. In The US, native wild Sumac was used by indigenous people in tart, refreshing drinks. The berries are also high in vitamins A and C and full of antioxidants.
The name comes from summaq, an Aramaic word that translates to “dark red” thanks to the color of the ripe berries. Sumac berries are dried before being ground into a fine powder that has a bold color. Often, ground sumac is pre-mixed with salt for a savory and sour combo that works well in a wide range of uses. You can also find the spice sold as dried whole berries, while these take a little more prep time to use, they have a much longer shelf life. To use whole sumac, crush the berries lightly and soak in a small amount of water for 20 minutes, the berries and liquid can then be used together.
When it comes to cocktail making, sumac is a great, playful tool. Creating a sumac syrup or garnishing with the ground spice can add dynamic color and more layers of flavor than lemon alone. The tart flavor pairs well with tons of spirits, one of the most obvious is infusing a vodka with the spice, but it also plays well with smoky spirits like whiskey and mezcal.
When sourcing sumac to use in your cocktail program, you can of course purchase imported, pre-ground or dried berries, but you can also look to local sources. As sumac is native to most of the US, you may find a local supplier or be able to harvest it from your own backyard. If you do choose to harvest it yourself, make sure to leave enough behind as it’s a critical food source for wildlife.*
Recipe by Serjan Midili
- 2 oz. Bourbon of Choice
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz. Sumac Syrup*
- Sprinkle of ground sumac and maraschino cherry for garnish
Preparation: Shake all ingredients together with ice until chilled, strain into serving glass of choice, garnish with a sprinkle of sumac and a cherry.
- 3 tbsp. Ground Sumac
- 2 cups Water
- 1 1/2 cup Sugar (or sweetener of choice)
Preparation: Prep your sumac (grind dried berries ina spice grinder or pre-ground). In a small saucepan combine the water and sugar and heat over medium, stirring occasionally until sweetener is dissolved. Add the sumac and allow the mix to steep for five to ten minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer into a sanitized container and refrigerate for up to a week.