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Best-Sumac-Substitutes

The 7 Best Sumac Substitutes

One of the problems that can arise when cooking or baking a dish that uses sumac is that it may be challenging to procure. It’s used in Turkish, Arabic, and Levantine dishes and adds a particular flavor that builds on the recipe’s other ingredients.

Anyone who is looking to make these types of meals but who cannot acquire sumac for their kitchen may want to look into a sumac substitute. There are several you can use depending on what you plan to whip up in the kitchen.

What is sumac

Sumac is a spice that is commonly used in recipes form the Middle East. It offers notes of tartness and astringency, which fit well with poultry and fish dishes. In western areas of the world, it is also used for souring dishes and adding acid to marinades and dressings without the use of vinegar.

How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

Sumac is like many herbs in that it doesn’t have many calories, fat, protein, or even salt. It also doesn’t include minerals or vitamins, so it could be considered healthy or more likely to be designated as a neutral ingredient. It’s certainly more healthy than other ingredients that are full of salt and saturated fat.

Nutritional Breakdown

Sumac

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

100 kcal

5%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Protein

1 g

2%

Salt

0 g

0%

Carbohydrates

3 g

1%

Fiber

1 g

4%

Calcium

0 mg

0%

Iron

0 mg

0%

Potassium

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from EatThisMuch.)

What recipes are sumac used in?

As mentioned earlier, sumac is typically used in Mediterranean dishes and recipes from the Middle East. In addition, powdered sumac can be used on snacks like popcorn to pump up the flavor a bit more than just salt. It can also be used on citrus dishes if you are using the powdered version.

Why do we need sumac substitutes?

Having a sumac substitute is essential for many people, most notably those who aren’t located in the Middle East or the Mediterranean. The lack of access to this spice can make it impossible to use without branching out and seeing what alternatives are on the market.

Note:

🌱 = vegan


1. Lemon pepper seasoning🌱

Best for: salmon, lobster, pasta, chicken, and other seafood.

Lemon pepper seasoning

Lemon pepper seasoning is a spice blend that includes cracked black pepper and dried lemon zest. It can be purchased at any grocery store, or you can create it in your kitchen. These two flavors are designed to complement each other and offer a spice that works well on everything from pasta to chicken and seafood.

Advantages

The acidity contained in the lemon zest in lemon pepper seasoning works well as a replacement for the same acidity found in sumac. Before lemons were available in the Middle East, sumac was the go-to ingredient for offering a bit of sourness to various dishes.

Lemons are now used as well, so this makes for an authentic substitute. This spice is also easily found at markets, so it offers a much higher level of convenience.

Disadvantages

One of the many issues with lemon pepper as a sumac substitute is that most of the seasonings come with tremendous amounts of salt. Since lemon pepper doesn’t have many perks as far as vitamins and minerals, this is a pretty big issue. It’s especially important to consider if you are eating a low sodium diet.

Nutritional breakdown

Lemon pepper seasoning

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

0 kcal

0%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

11429 mg

602%

Carbohydrates

0 g

0%

Fiber

0 g

0%

Vitamin A

0 mcg

0%

Vitamin D

0 ug

0%

Vitamin E

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)


2. Za’atar🌱

Best for: sauces, spice blends, chickpeas, and vegetables.

Za’atar

Za’atar is another blend of spices, but unlike lemon pepper, it is a blend that contains sumac. In addition to being one of the spices in the mixture, it’s also often the heaviest of all the other flavors. This sumac substitute also typically contains sesame seeds, dried herbs, and salt. Since there are various blends of za’atar, choosing the one that best fits the dish you are making is crucial.

Advantages

The main advantage of choosing za’atar as an alternative to sumac is that it contains the ingredient you are looking for. This spice blend was created for use in Middle Eastern dishes, so it’s likely going to taste great on dishes you make from that region. If you want a flavorful meal, this is one of the best choices if it’s available to you.

Disadvantages

Some people who use za’atar have allergic reactions and should not use the blend of spices. It is also a blend that contains a large amount of sodium, so it shouldn’t be used by anyone who needs to adhere to a low sodium diet. 

Nutritional breakdown

Za’atar

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

0 kcal

0%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Cholesterol

0 g

0%

Carbohydrates

0 g

0%

Fiber

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Sodium

4500 mg

237%

Calcium

0 mg

0%

Iron

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

3. Tamarind🌱

Best for: curries, beverages, relishes, and sauces.

Tamarind

One of the tartest tropical fruits you can use in your recipes is the tamarind. As a sumac substitute, it can be purchased in several forms, including paste, dried pods, and more.

This is an ingredient that is often used by West Indians and Thai people to create both food and beverages with a bit of sourness. If you have access to this fruit, it makes a fantastic alternative to sumac.

Advantages

Tamarind is an ingredient that offers a reasonable amount of calories and salt, along with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. This makes it a healthy option when choosing an alternative to sumac.

The fruit has a high concentration of tartness, but it can be adjusted by using a small amount and adding more as is needed.

Disadvantages

Not every location will have tamarind at the local grocery store, so it might not be the right substitution for people in that situation.

In addition, those who use too much of this fruit in their dishes can create a meal that is far too sour and tart to enjoy. Using moderation is essential to attempt this substitution.

Nutritional breakdown

Tamarind

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

239 kcal

11%

Total fat

0.6 g

0.7%

Saturated fat

0.3 g

2%

Protein

3 g

6%

Salt

28 mg

1%

Potassium

113 mg

3%

Vitamin C

4 mg

5%

Vitamin A

2 ug

0.3%

Vitamin K

0.3 ug

0.3%

Cholesterol

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)


4. Vinegar🌱

Best for: dressings, sauces, pickling, desserts, and condiments.

Vinegar

One of the most acidic liquids found in most modern kitchens is vinegar. It is created using a fermentation method and can be used for all sorts of baked goods and savory dishes.

Vinegar has been used in cooking for thousands of years and adds a tart or sour flavor to many dishes. Some kinds of vinegar also have other characteristics, such as fruit vinegar, which has a touch of sweetness added to it.

Advantages

As noted, vinegar is an ingredient in cooking that is sour and tart, which makes it similar to sumac. This makes it an excellent sumac substitute when appropriately used.

Vinegar is also relatively healthy as it has few calories, no fat, and a small amount of sodium. It also provides trace amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium to keep you in good health.

Disadvantages

The main downfall of using vinegar instead of sumac is that the former is far more acidic than sumac will be. That means you are going to need to be cautious when using it.

It’s best to add only a few drops to your recipe and then taste it. If it isn’t the flavor you are looking for, you can add a few more drops and repeat until the dish tastes perfect.

Nutritional breakdown

Vinegar

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

21 kcal

1%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

5 mg

0.3%

Calcium

7 mg

0.7%

Iron

0.2 mg

1%

Potassium

73 mg

2%

Carbohydrates

1 g

0.4%

Fiber

0 g

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

5. Lemon juice🌱

Best for: marinating fish, poultry, and meat.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is a sumac alternative that consists of nothing more than lemons, although some individuals choose to add sugar to it in a mixture for beverages or desserts.

It’s easy to make at home by cutting up some lemons and squeezing out the liquid inside. The juice won’t last for a very long time, so it’s best to create it right before you need to add it to your recipe.

Advantages

One of the benefits of lemon juice is that it’s convenient and can be made at home. It also has a sour and citrusy flavor that can resemble the taste of sumac. To have the proper taste for sumac dishes, adding salt to the lemon may be needed, but this is a simple process.

Disadvantages

While lemon juice provides the tartness of sumac, it also adds a citrus flavor that may not be wanted in every dish. This is another case where you may want to add a small amount to the recipe you are making before tasting it and making any needed adjustments.

Nutritional breakdown

Lemon juice

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

22 kcal

1%

Total fat

0.2 g

0.3%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Protein

0.4 g

0.8%

Salt

1 mg

0%

Potassium

103 mg

3%

Calcium

6 mg

0.6%

Vitamin C

39 mg

50%

Vitamin E

0.2 mg

1%

Vitamin K

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

6. Amchoor🌱

Best for: chutneys, marinades, soups, and curries.

Amchoor, which is also known as amchur or aamchur, is made of unripe mango flesh that has been dried. It is available as a powder or slices and is commonly used in the northern part of India, which is also where it is primarily produced.

Like tamarind, it is often used for souring dishes. It is often included in samosa fillings, curries, chutneys, and soups.

Advantages

In most cases, if you have access to amchoor, it will be the powdered version. It has a tangy and sour flavor that is similar to the flavor profile of sumac. This is an ingredient that works very well with dishes that include chicken or fish since it offers a sour flavor along with accents of citrus.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, amchoor is not a fruit that will be found in all locations, which may make it an alternative that doesn’t work for everyone. This is also another citrus-flavored sumac substitute, which adds an extra level of flavor that may not work in every dish you prepare with it.

Nutritional breakdown

Amchoor

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

300 kcal

14%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Carbohydrates

80 g

29%

Protein

0 g

0%

Salt

0 mg

0%

Calcium

0 mg

0%

Iron

0 mg

0%

Vitamin A

0 ug

0%

Vitamin C

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA.)

7. Lemon zest and salt🌱

Best for: spice rubs for meat, poultry, and fish.

Lemon zest and salt

Lemon zest and salt is our final sumac alternative and also happens to be one of the easiest to acquire and use. Making lemon zest and salt simply involves removing the lemon zest from a few lemons and then adding a bit of salt on top of it. This is a convenient choice since the ingredients are found nearly everywhere, and you can make it all on your own.

Advantages

As with the other citrus sumac substitutes, this is going to offer a bit of a citrus taste along with sour and tartness. Using it with dishes that typically have citrus tones makes it an excellent alternative to sumac and much easier to get your hands on. It has the same flavors with a touch of zest, although it has an appearance that is nothing like actual sumac.

Disadvantages

This is another substitute that adds an additional layer of flavor that may or may not be appropriate for your dish. It also takes a bit of time to make the lemon zest and salt mixture, especially if you don’t have a tool to do the zesting.

Nutritional breakdown

Lemon zest and salt

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

214 kcal

10%

Total fat

0 g

0%

Saturated fat

0 g

0%

Protein

0 g

0%

Carbohydrates

54 g

20%

Fiber

4 g

15%

Salt

39333 mg

2070%

Cholesterol

0 mg

0%

Vitamin A

0 mg

0%

Vitamin D

0 mg

0%

(Based on nutritional information from USDA for lemon zest and salt.)

The Bottom Line

Sumac is a unique spice that is used in dozens of recipes in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. However, getting sumac in other locations can be a struggle or even impossible.

Because of this, individuals have created a large number of substitutes that offer a similar flavor to sumac. Some focus more on a flavor exactly like sumac, while others have additional flavor notes to uncover for specific dishes.

Top vegan picks

There isn’t a lack of options when it comes to sumac alternatives that are vegan. Each of the seven listed here is vegan, so you have your choice from among many.

When choosing the best vegan options, za’atar and tamarind are two that will appeal to many. Za’atar is easy to use and includes sumac in its spice blend, while tamarind has a unique citrus flavor that you may want to use for specific dishes.  

Top healthy picks

Overall, most of the sumac alternatives are quite healthy. However, there are exceptions such as lemon zest and salt and za’atar that contain a large amount of salt.

Tamarind is one of the healthier options that include vitamins and minerals you need to consume daily. Lemon juice is another option with nutritional value and very little of the calories, fat, and salt.

Top convenient picks

The convenience really cannot be beaten by the spice blends, since all you have to do is shake it over your recipe. If you prefer to eat something that isn’t in a spice form, lemon juice can also be a convenient option.

While you do need to create the lemon juice, it takes very little time to do so, after which you can finish up your recipe and enjoy your meal.

Top convincing picks

Those who want to enjoy a sumac substitute that is almost the same as the real thing are going to want to pick up za’atar. It offers sumac along with other seasonings that work well with it.

Lemon pepper seasoning is also similar to sumac but has a burst of citrus that doesn’t quite reach the level of flavor za’atar does.

Sources:

https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-vinegar-1328647

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Lemon-Juice

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