Sumac Jelly- 10 calories and 3 carbs per teaspoon!

Rhus glabra sumac thicket with ripe fruit.

Tis the season to can and preserve!! I started making jelly the other night out of the things I have foraged. I was asked for my for sumac jelly recipe since the ones available online tend to be small batches or produce iffy results. It is a very basic recipe, and super easy, yet yields a REALLY flavorful jelly that has 10 calories and 3 carbs per teaspoon while having a ton of vitamin C and antioxidants.

“Sumac you say!?!? But isn’t that POISONOUS!!” Sigh. It *IS* related to poison sumac but it doesn’t cause contact dermatitis, usually. “But but but… they are related! I don’t want to eat something related to poison sumac! What if… “ Stop. That is like saying you don’t want to eat tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or potatoes because they are related to nightshade and “what if…”

Many of the things we eat have poisonous cousins. That doesn’t make them poisonous. Not convinced sumac is safe? Read this, this, this and this.

As an aside, Rhus is related to cashews. Which aren’t actually nuts. Seriously. Google it. Every cashew ever is hand picked by a human being because they can’t come up with a machine for it.

I love sumac jelly! It has a tart, tannic flavor that lends itself very well to chevre goat cheese, dried and cured meats, wild game; things with strong flavors. Sumac is naturally very high in vitamin C, and has a lemony flavor. If you have ever had Mediterranean food with a lemony red powder on it… you’ve eaten sumac! If you wonder what it is and how to find it, see my previous post about the plant itself.

Either of the two most common species of sumac, Rhus typhina or Rhus glabra, will do for making this jelly. I think the typhina probably works better, it tends to be fuzzier and have more of the flavor particulates than the glabra, however whichever you find will work.

I collected a dozen or so clusters that was about 50/50 glabra and typhina. DO NOT WASH FIRST!! You will wash all the flavor right down the sink. It is a topical flavor particulate. Don’t wash it away.

Shamelessly recycled photo of Rhus typhina and glabra sumac from years ago. I’m not proud.

Instead, cram the fruit clusters, stem and all, into a large stainless steel pot. Yes, I know the stems look gross. Compared to the sanitized grocery store food, this feels wrong. Muscle through it. Add just enough water to cover the fruit clusters and put it on the stove to simmer for a while.

Another shamelessly recycled photo. I didn’t think to get a new one. It was late. Stems and all, in the pot.

How long depends on a multitude of variables including weather patterns (effects moisture content) humidity, minerals in your tap water, etc. DO NOT USE ALUMINUM OR IRON!! Those are chemically reactive metals. Use stainless, enamel or powder coated pots.

Bring it to a low boil for about 5 minutes. “BOIL?!?!? What is this madness!! My uncle’s cousin’s brother’s sister’s friend said you just run cold water over it!” That will produce weak lemony water, yes, but the antioxidants and vitamin C aren’t really released unless you boil it. I usually boil it until it turns an amber color like below. Once the liquid gets to that color, strain it off and discard the sumac fruit. I suggest bird feeders.

Prepared sumac liquid. It will be a rosie amber color.

The recipe I use is a pretty straight forward, low sugar recipe that yields 6 standard 6 oz. jelly jars with about a tablespoon left over for immediate gratification. Save yourself time and start your canner boiling when you put the sumac in the pot to cook.

So how do I know how many calories and carbs are in each teaspoon? Witchcraft? Almost. ALGEBRA!!!! *Flashback to 7th grade math class “When will I ever use this in real life!?!?”*

Answer: Grocery shopping, cooking, canning, home decorating… basically all the time. Take THAT 7th grade me!!

So, reading the nutritional label on the sugar bag, one teaspoon has 15 calories and 4 carbs. This recipe makes 36 ounces. Google how many teaspoons in a cup (48), and how many teaspoons in an ounce (6). Enter algebra.

(15*48)*3=2160 2160/(6*36)=10 Calories per teaspoon

(4*48)*3=576 576/(6*36)=2.6 (round up) Carbs per teaspoon

BAM! You just did algebra. Pretty painless, eh?

I just know I’m going to get an email or a comment that my expressions are incorrect. I haven’t had a math class in a lifetime. I did the best I could on memory!

Sumac is a wonderful jelly that you just CANNOT buy I stores. It is akin in many ways to mint jelly in that it pairs so well with savory things. By making it yourself, you can control the ingredients and make sure there are no artificial anything in there. It also is a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors hunting for the ingredients. Give it a try! The recipe is below.

A low sugar sumac jelly recipe that yeilds 36 oz of jelly with 10 calories and 3 carbs per teaspoon!

RECIPE: (I have edited this because the set is unreliable as originally posted)

EDIT: There seems to be inconsistencies in set, based on pectin brand. I did an experiment with Pamonas Universal (link below), Sure Gel Low Sugar, and Ball Lower Sugar Jam pectin. The net results are that the Pamonas set better with that kind of very low sugar content. The flavor is good, it can just be a loose set with the other brands.

I have revised this recipe based on recent experiments. Pamonas works so well that when I used it on elderberries I ended up with almost gummy bear like jam. So be aware that it works REAAAALY well! So well you can use it to make jello. Instruction are in the box for that.

  • 4.5 cups of sumac liquid
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Pamonas Universal Pectin** This is the edit**
  • 2 tablespoons calcium water (comes with Paminas Universal pectin)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
  1. There will be little sumac fuzzies in the liquid. That’s fine. Think of it as fiber. Put the liquid in a stainless pot and start on a medium high heat. Per Pamonas instructions, add prepared liq6 and 2 tablespoons calcium water to non reactive pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add pectin to measured sugar and stir together well while waiting for liquid to boil.
  3. Add coconut oil as an anti foaming agent.
  4. Bring to a full rolling boil and stir in the sugar/pectin mixture.
  5. When it returns to boil that can’t be stirred down, remove from heat.
  6. Skim off any foam and ladle into prepared jars. Wipe the rims down, and place lids/bands on the jars.
  7. Load jars into your canner and make sure there is at least 2 inches of water covering jars and lids. Add the vinegar to the canning water. That will help prevent mineral scale from building up on the outside of your jars during the canning process.
  8. Process time should be determined by your elevation and contents; see the USDA guidelines for that. Here they are.
  9. As a high acid food, at my elevation, it is 5 minutes at a full boil.
  10. After 5 minutes, turn the canner off and let jars sit in canner for 5 minutes.
  11. Remove the jars from from the canner and set on a dry towel, out of drafts, to cool. If you are using single use metal lids, you should almost immediately begin hearing *PING* as the jars seal. I use the Tattler reusable lids now and I rather miss that. What are Tattlers? Find out here. They don’t sponsor me or anything, I just like the sustainable aspect. (I am hoping to switch over to Weck jars, but I’m still in the research phase).
  12. Wait until they are fully cool, preferably overnight, THEN REMOVE THE BANDS. Label with date & contents and store in a single layer in a dark place. Do NOT leave the metal bands on the jars, I don’t care who told you to do it. Why? Keep reading.
  13. Do NOT stack jars. That defeats the purpose of a two part lid. The whole reason lids come in two pieces is so that if there are bacteria or enzymes in the jar, the lid will pop off and you will know not to eat it. It is a built in safety feature. If you leave the bands on or stack them, the jar can be full of botulism and stay sealed or even RESEAL. I don’t care who has done what for how many years and been fine. All it takes is ONCE. Just be smart. Don’t do it. Remove the bands and get shelves that are closer together if you are worried about space.

I hope you get a chance to make this jelly and enjoy it. It is a wonderful alternative to store bought jelly with a unique flavor. Why buy when you can DIY?


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason the biologist says:

    Somebody may have hit on this already, but staghorn sumac has absolutely no relation to poison sumac. Staghorn sumac is one of many sumacs in the Rhus genus. Poison sumac, on the other hand, is in the same genus as poison ivy and poison oak. That genus is Toxicodendron. That’s the problem with common names, they can trip you up. It’s easy to see why someone gave it the common name of poison sumac. The leaf structures are similar, but that is where the similarities end. They could just as easily have called it “devil’s tongue” and we’d all be calling it that now. Poison sumac needs really wet soil. It can be locally abundant where found but is generally rare to come across. It’s even considered a protected ins some states (such as Kentucky). I am a biologist and have spent hundreds of hours in swamps and wetlands and forest and I’ve never seen it. All that said, harvest away on this staghorn sumac and definitely make this jelly – thank you so much for sharing your recipe!


    1. I appreciate that! I use the correct nomenclature and common names though I cannot stand common names because the search engines don’t work well with binomial nomenclature.

      I address the fact that they are not related in the parent post about Rhus. If you try the recipe, let me know what you think!


  2. Chris says:

    How long will it take to set? its been at least 4-5 days and still hasnt set yet. I have followed the instructions right.


    1. Hi! Thanks for trying my recipe and reaching out!

      So the unfortunate side effect of foraging is the fruit is affected by weather conditions. This year, mine didn’t really set up either, though the exact same recipe yielded “canned cranberry sauce” like set last year. The big difference as near as I can tell was rain.

      Last year was a terrible drought in this area (terrible elderberry jam, solid sumac jelly) and the water content was lower. This year we had record rain and flooding (phenomenal elderberry jam and sloppy sumac) which leads me to believe the fruit had a higher water content to start with, and thus didn’t set.

      I left half the batch as it was and it was a loose sloppy jelly that tasted fine. I re-batched and tripled the pectin in the other half (but didnt add anymore sugar) and it set correctly. As long as it isn’t syrup, you can use it sloppy and it will taste fine as long as it was processed in the water the required length of time. Or you can re-batch it. It is entirely up to you and I’m sorry it didn’t set well.

      Next year I’ll experiment with pectin quantities and see if I can get a consistent set. Thanks for trying my recipe and please let me know what you decide to do and the results!


  3. yolandanohr says:

    That is so nice! I make violet jelly in the Springtime. This would be fun later in the year. Thank you.


  4. Nikki says:

    I can’t tell you how happy I was to find this recipe. I decided yesterday to figure out how to make sumac jelly but so many recipes have apple juice. It turned out beautiful and yummy. Even with the fuzzies! 🙂


    1. I’m so pleased that you tried and enjoyed the recipe!!


  5. I’m pinning for future reference. I like foraging, and I’m also wanting to learn to can with less sugar. This sure is pretty! I haven’t done anything with sumac before.


    1. I’ve always used less sugar in my canning, but due to health concerns I’ve really cut back. The change in flavor is remarkable; the fruit flavor really comes to the forefront when it isn’t being drowned out with sugar.

      Sumac is a wonderful and unique flavor. It is in season right now in zone 6 in the states where it grows. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the encouragement to try less sugar. And new things!


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