Punchy Turkish Sumac Onions

sumac onions in bowl 3

The bottom shelf of my fridge is full of pickles and condiments. Nothing is better to me than picking out a jar of something tasty to have on the side of my dinner! I love marinating things, pickling things, making chutneys, jams, and fermented vegetables. One of my easy favourites is sumac onions. They’re made by massaging tart, lemony sumac into crisp red onions, with a bit of vinegar and oil. They go a beautiful pink colour, and are delicious on the side of nearly any dish.

What is sumac?

Sumac is a deep red middle eastern spice, made from the dried and ground berries of the wild sumac flower. It’s a really tangy spice with a bold citrusy flavour which is slightly less pungent than lemon. It’s used in rubs and dressings, and often as a garnish, due to it’s beautiful red-purple colour. I think that makes the perfect spice candidate for making some bold and punchy marinated onions!

jar of sumac 2

What do sumac onions taste like?

First of all, they taste onion-y! Whilst mixing the onions with acidic flours such as sumac and vinegar softens the taste, they certainly are still onions. By massaging the onions with sumac first, they soak up the flavour, which results in beautifully punchy, slightly sweet, citrusy onions.

What do sumac onions go with?

Sumac onions go on the side of anything. You name it and I’ll put sumac onions next to it!

  • They work wonderfully on the side of a salad or in a buddha bowl.
  • Traditionally they’re served alongside grilled meat and kebabs, so try with your next BBQ or with a grilled meat alternative.
  • They would be the perfect side dish for some Lebanese cabbage rolls.
  • Try them on top of some tahini toast for a little something different!
  • I would also suggest giving them a go in a sandwich or a wrap, with some baked tofu and fresh veggies.
  • Even create a meze platter with some Mediterranean dip, falafel, and toasted pitta!
sumac onions in bowl 2

How to make sumac onion salad

Making sumac onions is really easy. Start by thinly slicing red onion into half-slices. I used a mandolin to chop mine, but you can just use a good sharp knife to get thin slices. Place it in a bowl, and sprinkle over the sumac and salt. Give the onions a good massage for a minute to really combine them with the spice.

Next, add the red wine vinegar and oil, and mix well. Leave them for at least 30 minutes before eating, but they will be their best after a couple of hours. Give them another quick stir before eating to bring up any spices that might have settled to the bottom.

Variations on onion salad

Some people find that raw onion is too strong for them, even when pickled. If you do, soak the raw onion slices in hot water for 10 minutes before mixing them with the other ingredients. This will reduce the strong onion flavour and make them more palatable. If you do this, make sure you pat them dry before carrying on with the recipe.

If you’d like to spruce up your onion salad, mix the sumac onions with some chopped fresh parsley. This is a very common way to serve sumac onions, as the fresh lemony flavour of parsley goes so well with the punchy flavour of the dish. 

If you like it spicy, add half tsp of chilli flakes or cayenne pepper along with the sumac.

sumac onions in bowl

How to store marinated onions

Pop the marinated onions in an airtight container or jar, and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. The vinegar in the onions will help to keep them preserved. If you add parsley to the onions they might not keep as long, so for the freshest onions, I would suggest adding parsley to them just before eating.

sumac onions in bowl 3

Punchy Turkish Sumac Onions

Chloe from Forkful of Plants
Prep Time 5 mins
Marinating Time 30 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course Condiment, Side Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Sumac onions are made by massaging tart, lemony sumac into crisp red onions. Often called onion salad, it's the perfect condiment to have in the fridge.


  • 1 large red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil


  • Add the thinly sliced onions to a bowl with the sumac and salt. Gently massage them for a minute until they are well combined.
  • Add the red wine vinegar and oil, stir well, and leave to marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Keep in a sealed container in the fridge, and enjoy for up to 2 weeks.

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