The Flavor Equation : Sumac and Saffron Refresher


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

Over the next few weeks, I will give you little snippets from my upcoming book, The Flavor Equation, and share a new recipe for you to try until my book goes on sale on October 27. This week is about Emotion and Taste and their role in Flavor. Our emotions help influence our taste and taste, in turn, helps influence our emotions. When I’m happy and want to celebrate, I often turn to lemon, lime, or passion fruit-based sweets. I find them extremely comforting. When I’m feeling down, I lean towards food I ate as a kid when I was feeling sick or sad; kanji/congee is a dish that does that for me. Think about the last time you were happy or sad, what did you crave or what did you avoid eating and drinking?

This week’s recipe comes from the bonus collection of recipes that didn’t make it into The Flavor Equation due to space constraints. This Sumac and Saffron Refresher was initially created for the Brightness chapter, which focuses on the taste of acids (and featured by the lovely folks at Epicurious). Sumac comes from a berry that is dried and ground to a powder. You’ll often see it used in Middle Eastern and Native American cultures, and it adds a sour taste with the extra advantage of being dry — you won’t increase the liquid volume of the dish. In India and the Middle East, we use saffron to add color and aroma to our food. Some of my fondest memories involve opening the lid of warm steamed bowls of pulaos and biryanis scented with saffron. This chilled drink captures all those special flavors and invokes some of the happiest moments I have of growing up; I hope it will make you happy, too, when you try it.

You can find more bonus content I created for The Flavor Equation and find out how to enter to win a remarkable set of kitchen items courtesy of my promotional partners here.

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The Flavor Equation : Sumac and Saffron Refresher

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Unlike a strongly acidic lemonade or limeade, this sumac syrup is tart but mild. The saffron and cardamom are pounded to release their color and flavors into the hot syrup.

  • Yield: 4


15 to 20 saffron strands, plus a few extra strands for garnish

½ cup/100 g sugar

3 green cardamom pods, smashed

¼ cup/30 g ground sumac

3 cups/700 ml chilled club soda or water


  1. Grind the saffron with 2 Tbsp of sugar to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 cup/240 ml water, sugar, cardamom, and powdered saffron mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let it steep for 30 minutes, no more. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and chill before serving.
  3. To serve, fill four tall glasses with ice. In a large pitcher, stir the syrup with the chilled club soda or water. Pour 1 cup/120 ml of the drink into each glass. Garnish each glass with 1 or 2 saffron strands. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


  • Sumac is rich in citric, malic, and tartaric acids but also bitter tannins. Steeping it in water dissolves the water-soluble acids. Gallotannin, one of the main tannins present in sumac, is bitter to taste and dissolves in water easily. Avoid steeping the sumac for too long, or its tannins will make the syrup bitter.
  • Saffron is ground to a fine powder using a little sugar as an abrasive. Grinding saffron increases the amount of color and flavor extracted than would be achieved if the strands were used directly.
  • Club soda, if used, adds a second note of acidity from the carbonic acid as well as the crackling sound of bubbles that create a sensation via chemesthesis.

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