The Secret Ingredient Alton Brown Adds To Starchy Dishes

Who doesn't love starchy side dishes? Carbohydrates often offer up a hearty way to round out a good meal of proteins and vegetables. From more recently popular hasselback potato recipes to black beans, or even repurposing leftover rice, starchy sides are a mainstay on the typical American dinner table.

However, finding ways to spice them up is key. You can add any number of ingredients to potatoes, whether mashed, broiled, or fried. From using sour cream and butter to adding french onion dip to your potatoes, you can dress them up, just like adding cheddar and bacon to your fingerling potatoes for some amazing baby hasselbacks. Plenty of peppers can spice up beans, and there are a plethora of herbs and spices to make your rice right.

Often garlic, onions, and even Creole-style spices are recommended for adding a zesty zip to the side dishes that might make the meal. But Alton Brown, the zany, food-science driven personality known for his show Good Eats (among others), has another suggestion: sumac.

How to use sumac in starchy sides

There are lots of recipes for using sumac with cucumbers, onions, and chicken, as well as in sauces or for seasoning chicken. However, Alton Brown swears by using it as his secret ingredient to punch up flavor in anything starchy (via Food Network).

Per SPICEography, sumac is an optimal option to add to any food to which you might otherwise introduce citrus. From rice dishes to hummus, it packs a flavor punch with its bright citrusy taste and aroma. The deep red spice that hails from the Mediterranean and Middle East is perfect to toss with potatoes after cooking or for use in a variety of applications, including dressing, rubs, condiments, dips, and spreads.

Alton Brown shared his love of his "secret weapon" sumac in his book "Everyday Cook." As he tells it, Brown stumbled upon sumac while exploring the history of hummus. The spice's citrusy flavor, which he described as being "earthy yet lemony, unique yet oddly familiar," intrigued and inspired him.

While using sumac may help to boost flavor, this spice touted by Alton Brown may have health benefits as well. According to Healthline, sumac may help to mitigate muscle pain, battle blood sugar issues, and provide ample antioxidants.

Given that Alton Brown is likely the closest anyone can get to being the coolest science teacher everyone wanted to have, and is also simultaneously amazing at making food, it might be fair to trust his sumac suggestion. Maybe grilling up some sumac vegetables or making a sweet potato side dish with sumac is the best way to start experimenting and making some sumac-infused sides.