The Citrus Spice Alton Brown Can't Stop Using

When it comes to unique approaches, or finding creative solutions to problems when cooking at home, Alton Brown always seems to serve as a source of wisdom. Brown is well known as the long-time host of his show, "Good Eats" and its more recent iteration, "Good Eats: Reloaded". He's also the host of "Iron Chef", and a cookbook author as well.

Over his many years of working in food media, Brown has gone public with plenty of idiosyncratic advice on cooking. Brown seems to have opinions and wisdom for everything from the simple task of cooking an egg, to the best cookbooks, and even some hyper-specific ingredients. For example, Brown lists some of his favorite pantry ingredients and claims that Red Boat was his favorite fish sauce in his book, "EveryDayCook", via Publicism.

But when it comes to his favorite spices, there's one in particular that Brown cooks with often. 

Brown's secret weapon

One of Brown's favorite go-to spices is sumac. The Mediterranean Dish points out that sumac is a dark red spice that is highly common in Middle Eastern cooking. It is derived from the berries of the sumac shrub which is common in that part of the world, and has been featured in recipes for centuries, per The Pacific Spice Company.

The Mediterranean Dish claims that sumac takes its name from the Arab word summaq which translates to "dark red." The Pacific Spice Company adds that sumac was so well regarded for its crimson hue that it was used by Romans and Greeks to dye cloth and tan leather. Sumac is used in many different dishes thanks to its tart, citrusy flavor. It can be used to even replace lemon juice in some recipes as a form of citrus. Much like citrus, it also helps to bring out the natural flavors of a dish without overpowering it. 

How to cook with sumac

Sumac's unique flavor makes it a versatile option for adding flavor to recipes that need a hint of citrus. In Brown's hummus recipe, he tops it with olive oil and sumac as a way to add a citrusy flavor without using lemon juice. He also uses it in a lot of his fried dishes to help cut through the richness of the oil and fat, per Food Network.

MasterClass adds that sumac is great for dry rubs, and spice mixes to accompany any roasted meats. The bright flavors of the sumac powder do a great job of adding complexity to rich, fatty meats like lamb chops or beef kofta kebabs. The Mediterranean Dish also recommends adding it to salad dressings and marinades, a Middle Eastern fattoush salad, as well as in the za'atar spice blend. BBC also recommends using it to uplift simple dishes like sandwiches. A bit of sumac can go a long way towards turning a boring lunch into a complex meal that will leave you satisfied.