What is the Difference Between Sumac and Saffron

The main difference between sumac and saffron is that sumac is a deep red or burgundy spice with a tangy, lemony flavor, while saffron is a vibrant orange spice that has a distinct floral flavor and aroma.

Sumac and saffron are two spices popular in various cuisines around the world. They have distinct differences in terms of flavor, color, and uses.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Sumac 
     – Definition, Origins, Flavor, Use
2. What is Saffron
     – Definition, Origins, Flavor, Use
3. Difference Between Sumac and Saffron
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Saffron, Sumac, Spices

Difference Between Sumac and Saffron - Comparison Summary

What is Sumac

Sumac is a berry that grows on the Rhus coriaria shrub, which typically grows in areas like Sicily and Turkey. It is a popular spice in Middle Eastern cooking. Sumac berries are harvested, dried, and ground once they are fully ripe. Ground sumac has a dark red-burgundy color and a texture similar to ground nuts. It smells and tastes like lemon but is less sour. It tastes sweet but sour and has a powerful punch. Even though sumac has a diverse flavor profile, it goes well with other spices like allspice, chili, thyme, and cumin. Sumac is common in Arabic and Lebanese cooking as an acidulant to enhance the natural flavors of the food, similar to salt.

Sumac vs Saffron

We can use sumac in various ways as it is a versatile spice. For example, we can add it to meat rubs or vegetable dishes like eggplant. It is especially great for lamb and duck as it cuts through the fattiness of the meat. We can also use sumac to season hummus. It is best to sprinkle it over a dish before serving, similar to adding a squeeze of lemon juice. Sumac is a good alternative to lemon flavoring when you don’t want to add a liquid to a recipe. However, it is important to check the ingredient label before using it as some brands include salt. In that case, it is advisable to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe.

To use whole sumac berries, gently crack or crush them and soak them in water for about 20 minutes. After that, add them to marinades, dips, or dressings just like you would with ground sumac.

What is Saffron

Saffron is a spice that comes from the flower of Crocus sativus, also known as the saffron crocus. The vivid red stigma and styles of these flowers are called threads.  These are collected and dried for use, mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Saffron is extremely subtle and fragrant and has a slightly sweet and luxurious taste. Around 90% of saffron in the world is produced in Iran.

Compare Sumac and Saffron - What's the difference?

Each saffron crocus flower produces only three threads of saffron, and it blooms for only one week each year. These threads must be plucked by hand and dried to make the saffron spice. Therefore, it takes about a thousand flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron. This is why saffron is very expensive. Saffron is, in fact, the most expensive spice in the world.

You can make a variety of dishes using saffron, ranging from saffron risotto to classic French bouillabaisse to a variety of curries. You can also use it for desserts, like pudding, cakes, and sweetened rice. Moreover, saffron is classified into different types based on their origin; for example, Iranian saffron, Greek saffron, Spanish saffron, etc.

Difference Between Sumac and Saffron


Sumac is a deep red, tangy spice that is made from ground sumac berries, while saffron is a rare and expensive spice made from the stigmas of the crocus flower.


Sumac comes from the berries of the Rhus coriaria shrub, whereas saffron comes from the flower of Crocus sativus.


While sumac has a dark red-burgundy color, saffron has a reddish-orange color.


Sumac has a tart, tangy, and slightly sour, lemon-like taste, but saffron has a distinctive, slightly bitter, and floral with a honey-like sweetness.


Sumac is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine and can be added to meat rubs, vegetable dishes, and hummus, and to add lemon flavor to a dish, while saffron is mainly used as a flavoring and coloring agent in food and drink, including rice dishes, desserts, and teas.


Sumac is less expensive than saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world.


The main difference between sumac and saffron is that sumac is a deep red spice with a tangy, lemony flavor, while saffron is a vibrant orange spice that has a distinct floral flavor and aroma.


1. “What is Sumac?” The Spruce Eats.
2. “Saffron: What Is Saffron And Why Is It So Expensive.” SpiceJungle, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “SumacFruit” By Oneconscious at English Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Saffron-spice-pistils.” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.

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