What is sumac?
Sumac is a popular Middle Eastern wine-coloured spice that has been known to enhance and compliment flavours due to its delightful lemon-lime tartiness. It is derived from the berry plant rhus coriaria shrub, grown in the Mediterranean region, which gives the spice its distinct wine colour. Although it is a great spice and condiment, sumac also has many surprising health benefits which we will uncover in this article. So keep on reading to discover the amazing benefits of this spice.
Health benefits of sumac
Sumac is demonstrated to have strong antioxidant properties. Free radicals are unstable chemicals that can harm cells in the body and contribute to the onset of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Antioxidants are substances that work to protect the body from this damage by free radicals. The antioxidant properties of a handful of the compounds present in sumac include gallic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol. Sumac may also aid in the control or treatment of a number of clinical disorders, including skin injuries, myopathies, obesity, and being overweight.1
The majority of sumac's antioxidant capability and therapeutic properties are assumed to be mostly associated with the tannins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids that it contains. Sumac's strong pigmentation and colouring abilities are due to the highly coveted red pigments produced by hydroxyphenyl proanthocyanins and other anthocyanins, which are pigments found in plants and fruit that have strong antioxidant properties. Studies have also shown that sumac extracts with high tannin content have been shown to improve the nutritional value and of animal products like milk and meat.2
Anti inflammatory properties
Sumac's anti-inflammatory properties make it a viable spice for people with ongoing inflammatory disorders like arthritis as well as for maintaining overall health. Furthermore, sumac has been used as an old-folk herbal remedy to treat a variety of inflammatory diseases. A study carried out in 2021 had found that sumac could be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19 infection due to its ability to reduce inflammation.3
According to a 2016 study, sumac extract dramatically reduced inflammation in mice that had ear oedema or swelling brought on by croton oil. They hypothesised that sumac's anti-inflammatory properties may result from its capacity to prevent certain inflammatory processes from becoming activated.4 Another study found sumac was able to ease gastric diseases caused by inflammation of the gastric epithelium, which is the lining of the stomach.5
Anti microbial properties
Sumac has promising anti-microbial properties that could be useful in preventing and treating various bacterial infections. A 2011 study looked into the antimicrobial activity of sumac against helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked to stomach cancer and gastric ulcers. Sumac extract was found to be favoured as a natural remedy for conditions caused by helicobacter pylori after researchers discovered that it had the ability to stop the growth of the bacteria.6
Sumac can also be used as a disinfectant because an ethanol extract of the Sumac herb was tested for anti-microbial activity against a variety of bacterial strains, including salmonella and E. coli. The results revealed that the sumac extract could be used as a disinfectant because it effectively eliminated bacterial strains as well as be used to treat bacterial infections.1
Sumac has traditionally been eaten to help aid digestion and improve gut health as it is rich in fibre. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects in the gut, sumac has also been found to help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).7 However, there is still more research required to fully understand the effects of sumac on digestive health.
Potential cancer fighting properties
There has been some evidence to suggest that sumac has some potential cancer-fighting properties. This is because sumac extract contains substances such as gallic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol that have been proven to have anti-cancer activities.8 Sumac extract has also demonstrated anti-tumour properties on colon cancer cells. Researchers have found that sumac's potent antioxidant and flavonoid content may be the cause of its anti-cancer effects.9 Sumac can, therefore, have some cancer-fighting effects due to its active bioactive compounds.
Reduce cholesterol levels
Sumac can decrease cholesterol because of its high polyphenol and flavonoid content. One of the main risk factors for heart disease is high cholesterol. The arteries can become narrowed and hardened as a result of cholesterol buildup, which puts a strain on the heart muscle and makes it difficult to pump blood.
In a 2018 study, the effects of sumac on the lipid profile and antioxidant status in diabetic rats were examined. The findings suggested that rats supplied with sumac had lower total cholesterol levels and higher antioxidant activity.10 A further investigation of the effects of sumac on lipid profiles and inflammatory markers in overweight and obese people found sumac supplementation dramatically decreased LDL cholesterol levels, which is known as the bad cholesterol in the body, while also improving other lipid metrics.11 This shows that sumac spice could lower cholesterol levels in individuals and might be beneficial within the diet.
Improve blood sugar control
Sumac can also help lower blood sugar levels and can aid in preventing insulin resistance, which worsens blood sugar regulation. Giving diabetic patients 3g of sumac a day for 3 months was found to be beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.12 In a separate study, researchers looked at how sumac extract affected the levels of lipids and blood sugar in diabetic rats. According to the findings, rats' lipid parameters and blood glucose levels were both dramatically improved by sumac extract.13 Before taking any supplements or making any dietary changes to control your blood sugar levels, it's also crucial to speak with a healthcare professional.
1 tablespoon of sumac contains:14
- 0.4g Total Fat
- 0.1g Saturated Fat
- 0.2g Polyunsaturated Fat
- 0.1g Monounsaturated Fat
- 77mg Sodium
- 1.3g Total Carbohydrates
- 0.9g Dietary Fibre
- 0.2g Sugars
- 0.4g Protein
- 8.9mg Calcium
- 0.5mg Iron
- 52.7mg Potassium
Uses of sumac
Sumac has many different uses. It has culinary uses and has traditionally been used in salads, marinades, dips as well as seasoning for meats, roasted vegetables and fish. Sumac has been used in traditional medicine for the management and treatment of numerous illnesses including haemorrhoids, wound healing, diarrhoea, ulcers, and eye inflammation due to its abundance of therapeutic properties. It also has multiple antioxidants, which contribute to its numerous health benefits.1
Sumac can also be enjoyed as a tea and is very easy to make. Simply crush the sumac berries and soak them overnight in cold water. It is important to use cold water as hot water can destroy the vitamin C. Then, you can strain the extract using a cheese-cloth or coffee filter and then you are left with sumac tea that can be added to hot water. Additionally, you can also buy sumac tea so you can enjoy the tangy lemon flavour of sumac at your own convenience.
Side effects and other concerns
Sumac tends to be safe for the majority of people when used cautiously, however, there are a few possible side effects to be aware of. Some people may have an allergic reaction and experience itching, swelling or hives. Sumac may also irritate the stomach lining in individuals and cause vomiting or nausea. However, side effects are rare and sumac is generally considered safe to consume.
Poison sumac, which belongs to the same family as poison ivy, is a species of woody shrub. However, this is not the same as sumac spice and should not be consumed as it is harmful and can irritate the skin, mouth and nose.15
Before using sumac, like with any dietary supplement or medication, it is advisable to see a healthcare professional, especially if you have any underlying medical concerns or are currently taking medication. This is because some herbal remedies have been known to decrease the effects of some medications.
Sumac is a fantastic spice that can enhance the flavour of different foods and cuisines; however, it is also a great spice with many different health benefits. Research has shown that sumac has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. Sumac was also found to lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood sugar levels and aid in digestion, which would help individuals lose weight. Thus, this Middle Eastern spice is very beneficial and should definitely be considered!
- Alsamri H, Athamneh K, Pintus G, Eid AH, Iratni R. Pharmacological and Antioxidant Activities of Rhus coriaria L. (Sumac). Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Jan 8. 10(1);73.
- Batiha G. E, Ogunyemi O. M, Shaheen H. M, Kutu F. R, Olaiya C. O, Sabatier J. M, & De Waard M. Rhus coriaria L. (Sumac), a Versatile and Resourceful Food Spice with Cornucopia of Polyphenols. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). 2022 Aug. 27(16);5179.
- Korkmaz, H. Could Sumac Be Effective on COVID-19 Treatment? Journal of Medicinal Food. [Internet] 2021 June 16. [Cited 2023 April]. Available from: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/JMF.2020.0104
- Al-Mazroua, M. K., et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) extract in mice with ear edema induced by croton oil. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2016. 194, 127-132.
- Martinelli G, Angarano M, Piazza S, Fumagalli M, Magnavacca A, Pozzoli C, et al. The Nutraceutical Properties of Sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) against Gastritis: Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory Activities in Gastric Epithelial Cells Infected with H. pylori. Nutrients [Internet] 2022 April;14(9):1757.
- Mahboubi M and Kazempour N. The antimicrobial activity of sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) against Helicobacter pylori in vitro. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2011. 111;2., 511-514.
- Zhang J, Huang Y, Zhang X, Wang Y, Huang Y. A combination of sumac and ginger extracts improves the inhibition of TNF-α in the gut of TNBS-induced colitis rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016;192:407-415.
- Shokoohinia Y, Chinsembu K. C, and Oguntibeju O. O. Phytochemical constituents and pharmacological activities of Rhus species: a review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2017. 207:133-149.
- Najafzadeh M, Reynolds P. D, Baumgartner A, Anderson D, Aebi S. Cytotoxicity and cellular uptake of auranofin in colon cancer cell lines. Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry. 2014 Apr;19(3):407-19.
- Mahzouni-Kachapi S S, Jafari S M, Ghorbani M, Dehnad D. Effects of sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) powder on lipid profile and antioxidant status in diabetic rats. Journal of Herbal Medicine. 2018;13:44-49.
- Khodaeian M, Rafiee M, Karimi M, Asghari Jafarabadi M. The effect of sumac powder supplementation on lipid profile and inflammatory markers in overweight and obese individuals: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2021;58(3):1231-1237.
- Rahideh S T, Shidfar F, Khandozi N, Rajab A, Hosseini S P, Mirtaher S M. The effect of sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) powder on insulin resistance, malondialdehyde, high sensitive C-reactive protein and paraoxonase 1 activity in type 2 diabetic patients. Journal of Research in Medical Science. 2014;19(10):933-938.
- Tajik H, Tamtaji OR, Moradi S, et al. The effect of sumac (Rhus coriaria L.) on blood glucose, lipid profile, and gene expression related to insulin and lipid metabolism in diabetic rats. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2014;17(9):974-980.
- Nutrionix. Sumac. [Internet]. 2022 [Cited 2023 April]. Available from: https://www.nutritionix.com/food/sumac
- Link, Rachel. Evidence Based Sumac Spice: The Heart-Healthy, Bone-Supporting Antioxidant Herb. Dr Axe. [Internet]. Sep 1 2022. [Cited 2023 April]. Available from: https://draxe.com/nutrition/sumac-spice/