by Jade 

October 22, 2017

sumac substitute

Hummus, kebabs, and fattoush are just some of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes. These dishes are just some of our “automatic orders” when we go to Mediterranean restaurants. Do you know what they all have in common? Sumac.

Sumac’s the culprit behind that lemony flavor that got us all drooling. If you’re planning to prepare Middle Eastern dishes, but you don’t have this popular spice in your cabinet, we’ll be providing you with a list of sumac substitutes you can use. Thank us later!


What Is Sumac? What Does It Taste Like?

sumac substitute
  • First of all, while sumac appears as wild, red berries, they’re nothing like the wild berries sprawled all over your backyard that traumatized you once when it made your skin rash bad. 
  • While it is related, the sumac we’re talking about is far from a rash-giving plant. Sumac makes a wonderful addition to your spice collection.
  • The sumac bush, native to the Middle East, is a staple spice in most Middle Eastern cuisine. Essentially, sumac is the plant’s dried flowers. It provides a tart, sour taste which best complements fish and chicken.
  • In the Western world, it is mostly used in salad dressings and marinades as a souring agent and as a vinegar alternative. 
  • If you’re cooking any Arabic, Turkish and Levantine dish, sumac will be a crucial in giving those dishes an authentic flavor. The only problem is, it might not be an easy spice to find, especially if you’re not living in the Middle East. 
  • If you are having a difficult time getting hold of this zesty spice, check out several substitutes we have listed below. Most of them are very accessible and can easily be spotted in supermarkets. In fact, you may already have some of them in your kitchen cabinet.
  • But before introducing the best sumac substitutes, let us first discover how to use this spice for various foods.

What Can I Do With Sumac?

sumac substitute

Sumac's acidity suits a wide array of flavors, from snacks and main dishes to popcorn, even. Here are some of the best ways to use it. 

An all-around topper

The spice is often used in Mediterranean, Israeli, and Moroccan cuisine. You can dust sumac on top of everything such as feta cheese, baba ganoush, kebab, hummus, and even roasted chicken or fish.

Craving for some roast chicken for dinner? Check out this Middle Eastern roast chicken recipe below!

Likewise, sumac brightens fried food with citrus, earthy tones, which make the food pop. Try garnishing corn fritters, fried beans, and even fried vegetables with this spice.

As a general rule of thumb, the fresher the spice, the better.

Popcorn seasoning

Popcorn lovers should definitely try seasoning fresh popcorn with salt and sumac! Sumac’s sour element complements the salty flavor well. Simply toss it all over popcorn with salt and enjoy it’s complex salty-vinegar taste.

As a marinate component

Pork is best marinated with sumac. We always marinate pork ribs with blood oranges, olive oil, honey, garlic, soy sauce, and sumac. Sumac is an excellent substitute for lemon juice and vinegar.

Let the ribs soak in the marinate for 24 hours, and we swear, you’ll love the citrusy, divine flavor sumac imparts on the meat.

On the same account, sumac also works great with seafood due to its tangy, lemony flavor. Try marinating prawns and salmon with simple spices such as sumac, coriander, lemon, and garlic for a wonderful seafood feast.

sumac substitute

As a pasta dough ingredient

Step up your pasta dough game by adding sumac into the mix. If you make your own pasta using pasta makers or an old-fashioned manual pasta roller, sprinkle finely ground sumac all over the dough to add an interesting taste to the pasta.

However, you can still incorporate the spice in your pasts even though you don’t make it from scratch. Add a spoonful into the pasta sauce or sprinkle a pinch on top of the cooked dish.

Want to cook something out of the box? Try this sumac pesto pasta recipe below!

Now that you know what you can do with sumac, let’s go down to the real deal – knowing popular and less popular sumac substitutes.

Some Popular Sumac Substitutes

Lemon pepper seasoning

sumac substitute

Your best bet for a sumac substitute is a lemon pepper seasoning. Lemon zest seems to be the most obvious sumac alternative because of its tangy, acidic taste. But sumac isn’t all lemony – it’s a bit salty too, hence the choice of lemon pepper seasoning as the best sumac substitute.

The seasoning consists of dried lemon zest and cracked black pepper. You can find this in most grocery stores, or you can make it at home – just combine both ingredients. The flavors of both substances complement each other perfectly.

Additionally, lemon is also a favorite souring ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes, so food seasoned with this substitute will taste authentic nevertheless.

Lemon pepper is ideal for seasoning grilled poultry and seafood. Some experts also recommend adding a little salt to the seasoning when using it as a sumac substitute. Ideally, use about one and a half times the amount of sumac required for the recipe you’re making. 


sumac substitute

Za’atar is a spice blend that’s also a great sumac substitute. Sumac may only be one of the ingredients in the spice mix, yet it is the most prominent flavor. The other spices consist of salt, sesame seeds, and dried herbs.

Za’atar works well in most recipes that require sumac. When using this as a sumac alternative, use an amount equal to sumac’s recommended amount then increase to taste.


sumac substitute

Having the same tart taste as sumac, tamarind, a tropical fruit, can also work well as a sumac substitute. There are varied forms of tamarind you can use for cooking – whole dried pods, paste, frozen pulps, etc.

It’s super sour because it’s highly concentrated, which means that you only need a pinch of it to replicate sumac’s tartness. For best results, add it in small amounts until you eventually get your desired taste.


sumac substitute

Vinegar may not be on par with the other three when it comes to replicating sumac’s taste, but it’s still a decent alternative.

Since sumac’s flavor is mainly tart, vinegar’s tartness can compensate for it. However, vinegar is relatively more tart than sumac so use this condiment with caution.

It’s best to use it in small amounts then increase to taste.

Lemon juice

sumac substitute

Lemon juice can provide the same tartness as sumac, but with an enhanced, citrus taste. As with vinegar, just add a little to taste then adjust until you have your desired flavor profile.

Other alternatives

If somehow you can’t find any of the popular sumac substitutes above, you can also use the following in small amounts then add little by little to build up the taste. 

Who knows, maybe these less popular substitutes can be your savior in crisis!

  • Aamchur (dried mango powder)
  • Aleppo pepper
  • Coriander
  • Dry hibiscus powder
  • Sour cream

Final Thoughts

sumac substitute

There you go, folks! We’ve listed the most popular and less popular sumac substitutes for your reference. Always bear in mind to use the amounts recommended for each substitute as it’s better to have a lesser taste which you can always build up than an overpowering taste.

Again, use these substitutes at your own discretion. You can also mix and match! Only use small amounts then increase it as you build your dish’s flavor profile.

Hey, home chef! Are you fond of using sumac in dishes? Do you know other sumac alternatives? Do comment your thoughts below! Also, don’t forget to share this post. Cheers!

About the author 


  • This was the most informative and complete article I found on substitutions – INCLUDING the amount to use as a substitute. My sincere thank you!!

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