Sumac: a Middle Eastern spice or conspiracy to poison Americans?

Sumac is a a family of plants from the genus Rhus. In some Middle Eastern countries, the drupes of Sumac are crushed and dried to yield a reddish sour coarse powder. This is used to garnish salads and dips because of its color.

What is both funny and sad is when one Iraqi blogger back in November 2003 posted a
recipe for Sumac salad. One aggravated American emailed him to say:

Is your "recipe" just an evil trick? A way to poision the Americans? That could be inferred. Sumac is highly posionous!

You said: "Sumac is a deep reddish spice that is tangy and grainy." From the page you linked: English=Shumac, Sicilian sumac "The closely related New-World genus Toxicodendron contains only plants that (as can be inferred by the genus name "poisonous tree") are highly toxic."

In Iraq YOU may be eating a safe spice, but in the "New World" (North America, USA, etc), the variation of that plant that grows there is posionous!


To which the blog author replies:

No, dear, paranoid friend- I'm not trying to POISON *you* or anyone else... I had no idea sumac was deadly in your part of the world and even provided a link to better inform you of the plant. I assume that if you purchase it at a supermarket, it will not be poisonous... but what do I know?

Note: If I give you the recipe to a mushroom soup, I assume you won't use the poisonous mushrooms. Give me a break people.

Talk about ignorance and tin-foil hats.




To simplify the search for those of us living on different continents and to ensure no one is inadvertently poisoned it would be wonderful if the proper botanical names of ingredients were in brackets of those ingredients not commonly used the world over.
Your reply to the person from the US was equally rude as his, patronizing even by calling him paranoid and wearing foil hats! What IF someone did become ill? Would you be as patronizing?

Diplomacy is a fine quality, it does not necessitate 'name calling'. The difference is in pointing out someone's behavior is inappropriate vs telling them they are a paranoid idiot. The journey of wisdom does indeed begin with knowledge! The second step is to learn from the knowledge that has been presented to you - even idiots in foily hats can teach us a thing or two - patience, forgiveness for their shortfalls and diplomacy!

Ontario Canada


The type of sumac used in Middle Eastern cooking is completely safe. I have used it and it is wonderful sprinkled on top of Hummus. It has a pungent fragrance when used with certain foods lends a very complimentary constituent. It would be nice if people would research something before it is judged and people accused of dreadful deeds. There are certain herbs and spices we use every day that in their raw or harvested form that can have adverse affects. Some parts of specific plants can be consumed and some cannot. Poisonous plants are indeed very rare. It would be wise not to jump to conclusions.

Good American cooks / bad American cooks

I'm an American, I cook, and of course I know that many local American foods - rhubarb and potatoes spring to mind - come from plants which have toxic parts and edible parts.

No normal American cook would prepare a potato which has been exposed to sunlight and has begun to turn green - they are toxic. And some traditional American foods like beans (most varieties eaten in the world originally came from the Americas), have to be cooked because they are toxic if eaten raw.

So the posters who are certain that recipes containing sumac are attempts to poison us are ignorant and paranoid, and should be pitied. They are not normal American cooks, and I would be hesitant to eat anything they prepared.

Remember that millions of Americans have middle-eastern and Mediterranean roots, and millions of Americans are excellent cooks. Most of us understand that the plant world is complex and must be approached intelligently, and that foods new to us should be researched before using.