I Say Sumac. You say – Poison

Let’s try that again.  I say Sumac you say—Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac.

One more time – I say Sumac and you say—spice!

Yes, a spice used in many Middle Eastern foods. Who knew?  It’s not a spice I have ever used and when I first tasted it in a meat pie this weekend I wasn’t sure about the flavor.  Was it cinnamon? No.   It also wasn’t anything from the Italian palate of spices either; I was sure of that.  It’s a flavor that hung around in my mouth after the food was finished.  Intriguing.  I had to ask. When Sumac was the answer I did have a momentary thought “Poison! – I’ve been poisoned” but since everyone around me was alive and kicking it seemed foolish to grab my throat and dramatically drop to the ground.  Good manners demanded that I just keep on eating.

If, like me, you’re not familiar with Middle Eastern food and wonder if Sumac is part of the dish you’re dining on– check the color.  Sumac does not just blend into the background like salt; it doesn’t hide out with the green herbs, it stands alone and colors the food an interesting shade of red, almost like someone dropped a bottle of red food color into the meat.

Turns out lots of people enjoy sumac.  It’s an essential in the Middle East but even though I live in the East (make that Eastern United States) I’ve never had sumac flavored grits.  The only red spice we use is paprika and then just a sprinkling on deviled eggs.  We’re not what you would call adventurous when it comes to food tastes, but I might try sumac.  I’m guessing my local Kroger doesn’t stock it.  I’ll look though just to be sure. Once, when I eventually I find it, I’ll get back to you how it works in fried chicken or better yet pimento cheese.

All this led thinking about poisons let to a search for other poisonous foods, real or perceived.

I have to start with Agatha Christie’s poison of choice – Cyanide.  It turns out cyanide is everywhere in our diet; not just peach pits, there’s even some cyanide in apple seeds.  Don’t give up those Gaia’s just yet.  The outside of the seeds are too hard and don’t dissolve, even in stomach acid, so you would have to work really really hard to ingest enough cyanide from apples to kill yourself.

Then there’s the grandmotherly socially acceptable drink – Elderberry wine.  Made from the flowers its ok; just don’t decide to serve up a plateful of Elderberry roots or stems.

As I kept looking I found more and more plants that we eat part of yet the remaining parts are poisonous.  Who discovered this; did they test new foods out on annoying Uncle Herb?  As many a comedian has said; who looked at an oyster and said – let’s break this open and eat it.

Food – I might not be quite ready to suck on a fish eye but I was ok with the thyme pie (think pizza dough, olive oil and a coating of crushed thyme).   Looks like I’m on the way for 2012  being my year for food experimentation.


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