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Sumac Substitute: 6 Best Substitutes To Try

Sumac Substitute: 6 Best Substitutes To Try

Looking for the best sumac substitute? Here are 8 alternatives we recommend:

Our top 8 sumac substitutes + ratios are:

  • Lemon Zest – 1:1 ratio
  • Orange Zest – 1/2 T for 1 T sumac
  • Tamarind Paste – 1/2 T for  1 T sumac
  • Wine Vinegar – 1/2 T for 1 T sumac
  • Paprika – 3/4 t for 1 T sumac + vinegar
  • Cayenne Pepper – 1 t for 1 T sumac + vinegar
  • Pomegranate Molasses – 1 t for 1 T sumac
  • Grenadine Syrup – 1 t for 1 T sumac

Sumac is a famous spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, notable for its vibrant red hue and lemony, tart flavor. While it’s a kitchen essential, there are occasions when you might require a sumac substitute. 

Whether it’s because the ingredient is unavailable or you’re simply looking to explore other options, this guide offers alternative suggestions to help you achieve that sumac flavor in your dishes.

Understanding Sumac

Sumac is a spice with a zesty, lemony flavor. It originates from the dried berries of the sumac shrub, which are ground into a powder. 

Sumac’s origin traces back to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, where it’s been a staple for centuries. The berries are easy to identify as they’re vibrant red, unlike the poisonous white sumac.

Sumac is a must-have ingredient in the kitchen and often used as a seasoning, sprinkled on dishes like salads, grilled meats, and rice. It is also added in many spice blends, enhancing the flavor of kebabs, hummus, and even the famous Middle Eastern spice mix, za’atar.

What sets sumac apart is its unique tangy flavor, similar to lemon juice but with a milder and earthier note. This tart taste brightens up dishes, providing a refreshing contrast to rich and savory flavors.

Top Substitutes for Sumac

Here are some great substitutes for sumac. Each with its unique properties, ideal uses, and recommended ratios for substitutions:

1. Lemon Zest

Lemon zest is a common substitute for sumac due to its tangy flavor. It’s good for dishes like salads, marinades, and rice that benefit from sumac’s tangy kick. However, lemon zest lacks sumac’s color and full flavor and can have a slightly bitter note.

Use lemon zest as a substitute for sumac in a 1:1 ratio.

2. Orange Zest

Orange zest is a sweeter and less tart substitute for sumac compared to lemon zest. It suits dishes like marinades, fruit salads, and certain desserts. To mimic sumac’s tang, add a bit of lemon zest or vinegar. A pinch of salt and paprika can also help match the flavor.

For 1 tablespoon of sumac, use 1/2 tablespoon of orange zest.

3. Tamarind Paste

Tamarind paste, derived from tamarind fruit, has a sweet-sour taste. It’s used in Indian, Southeast Asian, and some Middle Eastern dishes like marinades and sauces. 

While different from sumac, its sourness makes it a possible substitute. Because it’s liquid, think about the dish’s texture when substituting. 

For 1 tablespoon of sumac, start with 1/2 tablespoon of tamarind paste.

4. Wine Vinegar

Wine vinegar offers a tangy note like sumac and can be a substitute in some dishes. However, wine vinegar is liquid while sumac is a dry spice, so consider the dish’s moisture when substituting. 

For 1 tablespoon of sumac, use 1/2 tablespoon of wine vinegar.

5. Paprika

Paprika and sumac are different spices with unique flavors. In some cases, paprika can replace sumac for color in dishes like rubs and marinades. If you need sumac’s tangy flavor, paprika alone isn’t enough. 

For 1 tablespoon of the paprika, use 1 tablespoon of sumac. Add sour ingredients if needed.

6. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is spicy, while sumac is tangy. They have different flavors, but in some dishes, cayenne can replace sumac for heat. If you need sumac’s tang, cayenne won’t work alone. Use less cayenne than sumac in a recipe, starting with a quarter of the amount, as it’s very spicy. 

For 1 tablespoon of sumac, use 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead. Add vinegar if needed.

7. Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate molasses, a thick syrup from pomegranate juice, can replace sumac due to its tangy-sweet flavor. It’s suitable for liquid dishes like dressings, sauces, and stews or as a topping. 

Use 1 teaspoon of molasses for 1 tablespoon of sumac.

8. Grenadine Syrup

Grenadine, a sweet syrup mainly from pomegranate juice, can be an alternative to sumac for a sweet-tart taste. It’s suitable for dressings, desserts, or sweet marinades. 

For 1 tablespoon of sumac, start with 1 teaspoon of grenadine. Adjust according to how sweet you want it.

These substitutes can work wonders in your recipes, providing the same zing and tart that Sumac adds to dishes. Feel free to try them out and choose the one that best suits your intended dish.

How to Use Substitutes in Recipes

Substituting sumac in recipes is easy and can be done by following these simple guidelines:

  1. Quantity matching. When substituting sumac with lemon zest, tamarind, or whine vinegar, aim for a 1:1 ratio. In other words, use an equal amount of the substitute as the recipe calls for sumac.
  2. Consider The TangKeep in mind that sumac adds a unique tangy flavor to dishes. Lemon zest closely mimics this tangy flavor, but tamarind and vinegar may vary slightly. Taste your dish as you go along and adjust the quantity of the substitute to achieve the desired level of tart.
  3. Flavor impact. Sumac has a citrusy and mildly earthy flavor. Lemon zest provides a similar citrus note. Tamarind offers a sweet and sour profile, and vinegar contributes acidity. Consider how these flavors may impact your dish and adjust other seasonings accordingly.
  4. Food recipe. Be mindful of the type of cuisine you’re preparing. Some substitutes work better in certain dishes. For example, lemon zest is excellent in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes. At the same time, tamarind and vinegar are great for Asian and international cuisines.
  5. Taste testing. The key to a successful substitution is tasting your dish as you go. Taste testing allows you to fine-tune the flavors to match your preference. Start with a bit less substitute and gradually add more if needed.

The bottom line

You can confidently replace sumac in your recipes by following the guidelines mentioned above. Pay close attention to the tangy flavor the substitute brings and adjust it as needed. Ensuring a balance between the original recipe and the new ingredient will help maintain the dish’s integrity and overall appeal. As with any substitution, experimentation might be necessary to perfect the flavor profile for your specific dish.

More About Sumac

8 Best Sumac Substitutes

8 Best Sumac Substitutes

Looking for the best sumac substitute? Here are some recommended alternatives to consider when you're either out of sumac or looking for a different option.


  • Lemon Zest - 1:1 ratio
  • Orange Zest - 1/2 T for 1 T sumac
  • Tamarind Paste - 1/2 T for 1 T sumac
  • Wine Vinegar - 1/2 T for 1 T sumac
  • Paprika - 3/4 t for 1 T sumac + vinegar
  • Cayenne Pepper - 1 t for 1 T sumac + vinegar
  • Pomegranate Molasses - 1 t for 1 T sumac
  • Grenadine Syrup - 1 t for 1 T sumac


  1. Substitute sumac for one of our 8 recommended options. 
  2. Use one of the above ratios when substituting for sumac in your dishes.

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