Thursday, March 12, 2009

The sumac that you can eat

The other day, I had to dash out to find some pretty specific ingredients for a school project for one of Ethan's middle school classes. He had to make Austrian food. This doesn't come up every day.

It provided me with the opportunity to go to Central Market, all by myself, and not be in a hurry, and actually buy a few things for myself.

One thing I picked up was a little package of powdered sumac, sold in the spice area. They sell spices by weight there, and you can buy enough for a recipe without spending a lot: I spent 9 cents getting my sumac, for example.

The sumac powder was a dark maroon, like a more violet version of chili powder. It had a tart taste, a little like lemon. I put it on some unsweetened yogurt that I was using as a sauce for a savory dish; it was good.

I felt daring, too, since I'd only known sumac as a poisonous plant. According to this site, it's poisonous here, but the variety that grows in the Middle East is not and is commonly used in cooking, which is how it ended up in my grocery.


  1. You know what's amazing to me? That five to six hundred years ago people would sail around the world and risk their lives to get a ton of the same stuff we sell now for a few bucks a pound.

    I mean, think of other luxury trade goods at that time. Gold and gems are still costly and valuable. Fine animal furs are still expensive. Refined perfumes are very pricey. Even silk is still expensive compared to other fabrics.

    But bulk spices are now pretty cheap foodstuffs. A boat full of pepper paid for Magellan's entire circumglobal voyage plus the lost of all but one of his ships AND earned the investors a profit. Now pepper is trading at about $2,000 for 500 gl (which might be gallons? I have no idea--but it's a lot less).

  2. Okay, it's probably closer to $15-20 a pound for retail on something like bulk peppercorns. Still, for something that used to be worth it's weight in gold (which is now over $900 an ounce), it's a big comedown.