We at Moon Valley are very proud of the provenance, traceability and high quality of our sumac, which is why we are so keen to share the story of where it comes from. Of all the products Moon Valley has to offer, sumac is the easiest to tamper with, and is therefore frequently subject to dilution as traders play with the ingredient mix in order to increase their profit margin. In other words, not all sumacs are created equal.
Moon Valley sumac is produced by a small cooperative based in the village of Yabrud, 20 minutes north of Jerusalem. The cooperative is made up of 10 men and 10 women, with the men mainly involved in growing and harvesting, while the women handle production and processing. This is significant in terms of employment for the small village of Yabrud, which is home to approximately 100 families, or 850 inhabitants.
Inspiration put into action
Yabrud's story is also a success in terms of women economic empowerment, as the cooperative’s founders and current leaders are women. None more so than Ismahan Daoud, who provided the initial inspiration to establish the cooperative. A few years ago, while shopping in a local market she noticed a spice vendor mixing ground lentils with citric acid, and selling it as sumac. This incident caught her attention, and she and her colleagues began to take notice as pure high quality sumac became increasingly difficult to come by in the local market.
The hills north of Jerusalem are renowned for their sumac trees, which produce berries with a distinct strong flavour, and vibrant red colour. This is exactly what these women from Yabrud wanted to capitalize on. Their original vision was to put Yabrud on the map as a source of high quality sumac. As well, they were motivated by the economic opportunity in more effectively marketing their products and increasing sales. Most men in the village only have limited access to unskilled construction jobs as well as in small-scale agriculture; therefore unemployment is quite high and income potential very low.
Although many of these women had been producing sumac for over 25 years, it was only 2 years ago that they decided to join forces and begin the process of setting up a cooperative. They had found over the years that traders and wholesalers from various cities in the West Bank were drawn to Yabrud for its sumac. It is of such high quality that they could even further dilute it with various filler and colouring agents, thereby boosting their own profits. By adopting a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy with the women in the village, they were able to pit them against one another in cut-throat price wars.
Ms. Daoud and her colleagues decided to form a cooperative in order to combat this issue and present a united front to traders and customers. This has allowed them to build stronger ties to markets, while more effectively negotiating with savvy veteran traders and wholesalers. They would like to continue growing the cooperative by inviting new members to join, but only as market demands require.
How is it made?
Except for the fact that they no longer crush by stone, the way in which they produce sumac has not changed much in the past 100 years. The berries are picked, then set under the sun to dry. After drying they remove the stems, and put them through a manual sieving machine. In this step the flower and any remaining stems are removed as well as other foreign bodies. The berries are then put into a peeling machine that removes the seeds. A final manual sieving process then takes place to ensure absolute purity.
Sumac is generally judged according to three factors, depth of flavour, acidity level, and colour. Our Moon Valley sumac scores very high on all points. And with less than 1000 KG annual sumac production, these enterprising women from Yabrud are precisely the types of artisan cooperative producers that we, and our customers, are so keen to support.