Sumac Substitute to Spice up Your Cooking – 10 Great Alternatives

Published Categorized as Ingredients

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Have the perfect evening meal planned with all your ingredients lined up, but you’re missing sumac? Fortunately for you, there are many great sumac substitutes for you to use to spice up your cooking. Perfect for whenever you find yourself in this unfortunate situation! Let’s take a look at some of these substitutes that’ll have you forgetting about this minor inconvenience by the evening!

Table of Contents

What is Sumac?

Sumac is a spice made from the dried berries of the sumac shrub. These berries vary in colour, from brick red to dark purple, depending on where the shrub is grown. The sumac shrub grows in the Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean areas. Sumac has been used for centuries as a seasoning for savoury dishes such as grilled meats and stews; it’s also frequently added to salads or sprinkled on other foods.

What Does Sumac Taste Like?

Sumac has a tart, citrusy taste, coupled with notes of an almost vinegar-like flavour. Sumac can be described as sour and is great when sprinkled over food to provide a tangy pinch to the overall meal. When using sumac in cooking, you should consider adjusting the amount of salt in your recipe by half as much, because this brilliant spice will provide some natural flavouring on its own.

Best Substitutes for Sumac

Perhaps you’ve run out of sumac, or maybe you just want to try out some other spices. Either way, there are many ways to substitute sumac in recipes or add a little zing to dishes without having to rush out to stock up on more of this spice. Here are some substitutes for you to try:

  • Lemon Pepper Seasoning
  • Za’atar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Lemon Zest
  • Amchoor
  • Tamarind
  • Vinegar
  • Lime
  • Ground Coriander
  • Smoked Paprika

Lemon Pepper Seasoning

Lemon pepper seasoning is a blend of lemon zest, black pepper, and salt. It can be used as a substitute for sumac in recipes to provide salty and tangy flavours to your overall meal. Lemons are often used in Middle Eastern dishes to give them an additional sourness. Using lemon pepper as an alternative, shouldn’t make your dish less authentic than cooking it with sumac. Lemon pepper works best with seafood and grilled poultry, the ideal amount recommended is one and a half times the sumac required for the recipe.


Za’atar is a spice blend that can be made with herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, and ground sumac. The main components of za’atar are, sesame seeds and salt, but there are other ingredients you can add to make your own version of this versatile spice blend. It’s traditionally used in Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically for flavouring meat or bread like pita.

Though you shouldn’t hesitate to swap it into your dish in place of sumac! The role of sumac in Za’atar is to provide an acidic and tangy flavour, which makes this Middle Eastern spice blend a good choice to bring an intense flavor out of meat, chicken, roast vegetables, soup, and more! Simply add a sprinkle on top of your food, like you would use salt.

Lemon Juice

Lemon is a great substitute for sumac because its juices provide a tangy citrus flavor, followed by a welcomed acidity, which is the primary reason sumac is used in most Middle Eastern cuisine. If you’re looking to replicate the flavour of sumac in your dish, then lemon juice should do the job perfectly.

One way to use lemon juice as a substitute for sumac is by adding it directly into marinades or salad dressings. Another option is using it as part of your cooking process – for example, adding lemon juice along with some salt and pepper, can further enhance the flavours of meats like steak or chicken. You can also stir some into sauces or stews at the end of cooking so that their flavours are brightened. Just remember to always add only a dribble of lemon juice at first, tasting it before adding more.

Lemon Zest

Lemon zest is a great substitute for sumac in cooking. It has a similar texture and it can also add the tartness that sumac has. If you are looking for an appropriate substitute for sumac, try using lemon zest. To prepare this spice, use a zester or grater to grate the skin of your lemon. You may want to dry some of it before adding it to your dish so that it will last longer in storage and be more flavourful when used. Use this spice as you would use sumac powder: sprinkling it on top of meat or seafood before roasting or sautéing them in oil over medium heat until they are cooked through, but not overcooked.


Amchoor is a dried, unripe mango powder. It’s made from the pulpy flesh of green mangos that have been sun-dried and then ground into a powder. Because of its high acidity, amchoor can be used as a substitute for sumac in both sweet and savoury dishes. Its dominant flavours are sour and citrusy, which allow it to merge brilliantly with strong spices like cumin, whilst adding a hint of sweetness on its own. Amchoor has no salt so it won’t change the flavour of your dish if you add it at the end – but keep in mind that this ingredient is also used as a preservative, so adding it early may alter your recipe’s taste as well.


Tamarind is a fruit that is used as a souring agent in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s used in a variety of dishes, including chutneys and curries. The tartness of this fruit makes it an ideal substitute when sumac isn’t available. Tamarind comes in many forms: frozen pulp, whole dried pods, and paste. It’s potent and highly concentrated so you should add it to your recipes with care; tamarind can stand in for sumac in sauces, relishes, curries — even beverages! Start by using just a bit at first and work up to the desired level of sourness or tanginess by adding more until it becomes too much for your taste buds.

Sumac Substitute


Vinegar is a great substitute for sumac. The sour taste and acidic nature of vinegar paired with its sweet undertone bode well with many dishes, including meat, marinades, sauces, salad dressings, and soups. If you don’t have sumac at home but you do have some vinegar on hand, you can use it in place of sumac in your cooking. Vinegars vary in their strength and flavour profile, so it’s important to choose one that matches the dish you are making best.


Lime juice is an excellent substitute for sumac in recipes that contain acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemon juice, and vinegar. Unlike sumac, which is tart and tangy in its own right, lime contributes its sourness to the dish through other means. The peel contains a high amount of essential oils that represent its sharpness, while lime zest can add intense citrus notes to a dish, without adding wetness or oiliness. You can also add some fresh or dried pepper seasoning with this if you’re looking for a spicy kick.

Ground Coriander

Ground coriander is a great substitute for sumac. It’s available in most grocery stores and is a spice that is commonly used in many cuisines. Ground coriander has a more earthy flavour compared to sumac, but its freshness can bring your dishes to life, much like the tanginess of sumac does. You can use ground coriander when cooking roasted meats and vegetables, or if you want to add savoury flavours to an Indian curry recipe without using any other spices.

Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika is a type of spice that is smoked over oak or beechwood fires. Its smoky depth is perfect for dishes that call for sumac. Its vibrant red tinge provides personality to your meals! It’s especially great on meat, potatoes, or salads. Smoked paprika can be found in many supermarkets across Europe and North America. Furthermore, paprika is easy to make at home by smoking dried peppers over an open flame with wood chips, such as hickory, oak, or mesquite.

Sumac Substitute

Can I Use Paprika Instead of Sumac?

While there’s no harm in using paprika in place of sumac, it doesn’t provide citrusy, lemony, or tangy notes as the other substitutes do. Paprika is usually made from bell peppers and has a milder, smoky flavour. If you’re looking for an alternative for sumac because you don’t have any on hand and want to give your dish some colour, paprika can do the trick! Just keep in mind that it won’t be quite as tasty when compared to using real sumac in the recipe.

Bottom Line

Sumac can sometimes be tough to find, and it’s not always easy to substitute. Luckily, there are some good alternatives that you can use in your cooking, mainly if you wish to add a spicy hit of flavour to your dishes. Hopefully, these alternatives will provide your dishes with the flavours you were searching for, and in the future when there’s no sumac left in your pantry, you’ll know that there’s no need to panic!

Sumac Substitute


Can I Make My Own Sumac Spice?

You’ll need sumac berries to make this spice. Place the berries in a bowl of room temperature water, and swish them around with clean fingers. Let them soak for 15 minutes then strain through a sieve or several layers of cheesecloth.

Is Zaatar a Substitute for Sumac?

If a recipe calls for sumac, and you want to replicate the spice’s bright and citrusy flavour, then you can use Za’atar. Za’atar contains sumac, so you’ll receive the nippy flavour you desire.