Inside the Mad Radish Spice Rack: Sumac, Za’atar and Tajin

The spice rack in the Mad Radish kitchen is brimming with seasonings and flavours from all over the world. We are often asked about some of the lesser-known spices that we use in many of our bowls and salads, so let’s get to know some of our favourites!

What is Sumac?

Sumac is a ground spice that comes from the Sumac berries found on a Mediterranean shrub called Rhus Coriara which is native to southern Europe but is also grown in Iran and Turkey. The word “sumac” comes from the Aramaic language and it translates to “red” which makes sense considering the vibrant color of this unique spice. Sumac has a rich history and has been utilized for thousands of years, with records of its use in ancient Greek medicine for antiseptic purposes.

The delicious tart citrus aroma and flavour of sumac is found in many Middle Eastern dishes, where its recognizable taste stands out immediately. The lemony essence of sumac makes it a perfect complement for everything from roasted vegetables to aromatic desserts.

It’s not just in taste that sumac gets high marks. This spice is ranked very high on the ORAC chart, which ranks the antioxidant levels in different foods. Antioxidant-rich spices and foods can help reduce inflammation and lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular ailments.

Add sumac to your own spice rack and enjoy it as a rub on any kind of meat, toss it into your vegetables with some oil before roasting or grilling, or, like we do, you can add it to oil and vinegar to make a wonderfully unique vinaigrette for your salads!

What is Za’atar, though?

Za’atar (pronounced ZAH-tahr) isn’t a single spice; it’s a famed blend of spices that is used in Middle Eastern cooking as liberally and as often as people in the west might use salt and pepper. It’s been around since the 13th century and you’d be hard-pressed to find a dish from the Mediterranean or Middle East that couldn’t be finished with a quick sprinkle of this amazing spice.

Most za’atar blends contain a of mixture oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac and toasted sesame seeds. There are some za’atar blends that add turmeric, fennel and caraway to further deepen the flavour. The thing is, there’s no official standard for what can and should go into a za’atar blend and there are many different variations on the market.

Za’atar has a rich, sharp taste, with strong elements from the thyme and oregano leading the aroma charge alongside the toasted sesame flavour. You can also catch the unique taste of sumac, particularly if the za’atar blend is from Jordan, where sumac features as heavily as thyme in their blend.

So, how can you incorporate this queen of the spice rack into your cooking? Let us count the ways. You can sprinkle it over freshly baked bread, or use it as a rub on poultry or lamb. You can (and should) add it to your scrambled eggs in the morning. It’s also the perfect flavor companion to starchy vegetables. But our favorite way to enjoy this spice? Sprinkled over a big ol’ bowl of freshly-popped popcorn.

What’s Tajin?

We are going to talk about Tajin here, even though it’s not a specific kind of spice, but because it’s a spice blend brand that we absolutely love and feature in several of our most popular salads.

Tajin spice comes from a company in Mexico and features flavours that are right at home on any Mexican dish – chili and lime. The blend is made up of ground red chilies, dehydrated lime juice and sea salt.

We add Tajin to our Sante Fe and Crispy Taco Salad to make the flavours pop, and if you add Tajin to your pantry, you can use it to add a spicy, citrusy taste to barbecued meats, crunchy fruits and vegetables like jicama and mangos, and yes, even on top of some popcorn. Delish!