substitute for sumac

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Don’t have sumac, or realized you’re all out while you’re cooking? Here are the best ways to substitute for sumac in just about any recipe! 

substitute for sumac

What is Sumac?

When most people think of sumac, they instantly think of “poison sumac,” today we will be discussing the substitutes for sumac spice. Sumac, is a dark red spice that is popular in several Middle Eastern nations which is made from the crushed dried berries of the sumac plant.

Sumac’s flavor profile can be described as being like a citrus fruit, with an additional robust spiciness that can brighten any dish. It is a very versatile spice that will add a subtle citrusy, tangy flavor to dry rubs, grilled meats and vegetables, salads, sauces ad dips and even some desserts!

But, if you can’t find any, what else can you use in its place? I invite you to keep reading to find out.

Best substitutes for sumac

If you’re looking for a substitute for sumac, you’re probably more interested in the citrusy, acidic, spicy flavor profile. Fortunately for you, there are a number of spices with similar taste profiles that can make great sumac alternatives. Our favorite sumac substitutes are:

  • Lemon zest
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Zaatar
  • Tamarind
  • Amchoor

Let’s have a look at some of the best substitutes for sumac below.

1. Lemon zest

lemon zest

One of the best substitutes for sumac is lemon zest. Due to its sour, acidic flavor, lemon zest makes an excellent substitute for sumac spice in cooking.

The flavor of lemon zest is perfect for grilled chicken as well as shellfish and it is quite easy to get lemon zest. You might even have a lemon that you can zest in your kitchen right at this minute.

Additionally, some experts advise adding a pinch of salt to the zest when using it in place of sumac. A good substitute ratio for sumac to lemon zest is 1:1 ½. This means for every teaspoon of sumac a recipe calls for, replace with 1 ½ teaspoon of lemon zest plus a little salt.

2. Vinegar


Vinegar also makes a great sumac substitute as well. Vinegar is great to use as a stand-in for sumac as most people always have it on hand.

Like sumac, vinegar has a nice tartness that makes it a good substitute for sumac spice. It’s more acidic than sumac, so handle it with care. Vinegar can be used for topping salads, sauces, and condiments in place of sumac spice. 

3. Lemon juice

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is another easy way to substitute for sumac in recipes. Simply squeeze some lemons into your recipe for that nice sour, citrusy, tart, and acidic flavor.

While lemon juice is great for replacing sumac, it is advisable to sprinkle a little salt on the lemon juice to lessen the bitterness.

When using lemon juice as an alternative to sumac, start by adding small amounts to the dish, then adjust until you get the flavor you would like. And, if you don’t have lemon juice, you can use lime juice as well.

4. Lemon pepper seasoning

Lemon pepper seasoning is an excellent alternative for sumac in cooking. Lemon pepper seasoning is made using dried lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper and ultimately makes for a very similar flavor to that of sumac i.e that nice citrusy spice.

To get the perfect replacement, use one and a half the amount needed in the sumac recipe.

An ideal substitute is 1:1 ½. This means if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of sumac, replace it with 1 ½ teaspoons of lemon pepper seasoning.

5. Za’atar

Za’atar is another excellent sumac substitute worth trying. Za’atar is a spice blend made from dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac, and toasted sesame seeds. 

As such, since sumac is an ingredient found in za’atar, it is a natural option when it comes to finding good sumac substitutes.

Generally, Zaatar seasoning has a citrusy, herbal flavor that works well in many dishes. Therefore, you can use za’atar seasoning in place of sumac in recipes like grilled vegetables, dry rubs, dips, sauces, grilled meats and vegetables and so much more.

Substitution: Replace 1 teaspoon of sumac with 1 teaspoon of za’atar. You can also adjust based on your own preference.

6. Tamarind

Just like Za’atar, tamarind is also an ideal sumac alternative. Tamarind is a tropical fruit with a sour taste that is frequently used in Indian and Thai cuisine and cocktails made by West Indians. 

The tamarind fruit has a tart-sweet flavor, while the sweetness is very mild and it does lack the citrusy element that sumac has. Nonetheless, you can add it to your food in small amounts until you achieve the desired taste if you plan on using tamarind as an alternative to sumac.

7. Amchoor

Amchoor, or amchur, is made from unripe mango flesh. 

Amchoor has a sour but somewhat sweet flavor, making it an ideal alternative for sumac in cooking if you can find it. Because of its acidic flavor, it pairs nicely with fish and white meat meals.

Furthermore, since amchoor comes in the form of a powder, albeit a beige or light brown powder, it is a suitable alternative for powdered sumac. It is also great for recipes where a liquid substitute like lemon juice would not work.

In general, amchoor is an excellent alternative to sumac. However, since the amchoor is not a super popular spice in many parts of the world, you may not. be able to find it quickly.

Common sumac substitution questions

What spice is close to sumac?

The closest spices to sumac are actually spice blends like Zaatar and lemon pepper seasoning. Zaatar is close to sumac because it actually includes sumac in the mix. Lemon pepper on the other hand is close to sumac because it has those elements of citrus and spice that sumac is known for.

Can I make my own sumac spice?

Yes you can. To make your own sumac spice, you simply need to wash, dry and grind the sumac seeds until a powder forms. For more information on how to safely and properly make sumac spice check out this video link here.

Can you substitute Zaatar for sumac?

Yes! While Zaatar has the added nutty and herby flavor, it does also have some of that citrusy flavor that can properly micic the sumac flavor. Therefore, use 1 teaspoon of Zaatar for every teaspoon of sumac.

Is sumac similar to paprika?

In terms of flavor paprika and sumac and totally different and so paprika does not make a good substitute for sumac. However, some people do use paprika in place of sumac if a dish requires some red coloring as both of these spices are red.

Final thoughts on sumac substitutes

There you have it, guys! We’ve made a list of the most common substitutes for sumac for your convenience. Always remember to use the appropriate quantity of each substitution; it’s preferable to have a milder flavor at first and then you can increase the amounts according to your desired flavor.

Also, none of the the substitutes listed here is an exact match for the flavor of sumac. However, in a pinch each of these will work as an ideal replacement for sumac while also adding their own extra uniqueness to the dish you’re preparing. 

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