What is Zaatar? Learn Benefits, Uses, and Top 5 Recipes

by | Jul 2, 2020 | Halal, Recipes | 0 comments

Za’atar is an herb spice mixture that includes the herb along with toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, often salt, as well as other spices depending on what region you are from. 

In its simplest definition, Zaatar is the Arabic word for oregano. The word is used for anything and everything that is made from oregano: the oregano plant itself, dried oregano, and even for the spice mix made using oregano, sesame seeds, and sumac!

In fact traces of Zaatar can be found from ancient Egypt to the lavant and throughout North Africa. 

There is evidence that a za’atar plant was known and used in Ancient Egypt, though its ancient name has yet to be determined with certainty.

Remains of Thymbra spicata, one species used in modern za’atar preparations, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and according to Dioscorides, this particular species was known to the Ancient Egyptians as saem.

As a family of related Middle Eastern herbs, it contains plants from oregano, basil thyme, savory plants.

Used throughout Mediterranean cuisine, both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Mediterranean region of the Middle East and North Africa.

Recipes with a cultural twist can be found in varieties in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and is used to make local varieties of the spice mixture.

A quick and authentic way to try zaatar is to dip bread in olive oil then dip the olive oil bread into the zaatar. 

Out of all the countries Za’atar has historical significance for Palestinians, some of whom see the presence of za’atar as the signifier of a Palestinian household.

For Palestinian refugees, plants and foods such as za’atar also serve as signifiers of the house, village, and region from which they hailed.

Zaatar is also widely used on food such as boiled eggs, garlicky yogurt, canned chickpeas, and exciting and exciting stuff (roast chicken, green sauce, homemade hummus).

 

za'atar

How Do You Make Za’atar Spice? 

 

Za’atar is a prepared condiment is generally made with ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted sesame seeds, and salt, though other spices such as sumac might also be added. 

Some commercial varieties also include roasted flour. Traditionally, housewives throughout the Fertile Crescent, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula made their own variations of za’atar, which was unknown in North Africa. 

In Morocco, za’atar mix consumption is sometimes seen as a trait of families with Andalusian roots, such as many inhabitants of Fez.

Recipes for such spice mixtures were often kept secret, and not even shared with daughters and other relatives.[citation needed] 

This general practice is cited by Western observers of Middle Eastern and North African culinary cultures as one reason for their difficulties in determining the names of the different spices used.

Written history lacks an early definitive reference to za’atar as a spice mixture, though unidentified terms in the Yale Babylonian Collection may be references to spice blends.

Some varieties may add savory, cumin, coriander or fennel seed.[18] One distinctively Palestinian variation of za’atar includes caraway seeds, while a Lebanese variety sometimes contains sumac berries, and has a distinct dark red color.

Like Bharat (a typically Egyptian spice mix of ground cinnamon, cloves, and allspice or rosebuds) and other spice mixtures popular in the Arab world, za’atar is high in antioxidants.

Za’atar, both the herb and the condiment, is popular in Algeria, Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.

What are the Health Benefits of Zaatar? 

 

Although no clinical research has been done to show benefits for specific claims, Zaatar has long been touted to aiding digestion and alertness. 

Some claim that Zaatar can help reduce and eliminate internal parasites although that has not been clinically verified. 

In Palestine, there is a belief that za’atar makes the mind alert, and children are sometimes encouraged to eat za’atar at breakfast before school.

Historically Maimonides (Rambam), a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, prescribed za’atar for its health advancing properties to his patients. 

The common za’atar blend contains vitamins A, C, E, and K. Sumac (a dried berry with lemony flavor) is full of flavonoids, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids and has exceptionally high antioxidant properties. 

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of many essential minerals such as copper, magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. They are also an important source of omega-6 fatty acids and flavonoid phenolic antioxidants.

In total Za’atar has been claimed to have health benefits that include its ability to improve the immune system, boost skin health, build strong bones, increase circulation, clear out the respiratory tracts, soothe inflammation, boost energy, improve mood, aid memory, and treat chronic diseases.

 

zaatar

 

How is Zaatar Harvested? 

 

Zaatar is harvested during the summer months and washed in water to clean its smooth leaves of dirt. 

Once washed the herb is left outdoors under shade for a few days, then bagged and stored indoors for two weeks to fully dry. 

When the zaatar has fully dried the stems and the leaves are separated resulting in a high-quality herb. 

 

What is the Best Zaatar Recipe? 

 

Like any food which is eaten by many cultures, the best zaatar recipe can be found all over the map! 

Rather than focusing on just one zaatar recipe we went ahead and put together our list of the top recipes from around the world.

It should be noted that preparing the Zaatar mix is extremely easy. For most recipes you should roast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat for a few minutes until they turn light brown, all while stirring.  

Then you mix the sesame seeds along with all other ingredients really well to get your Zaatar mix.

 

 

zaatar spice

 

Three Types of Palestinian Zaatar Reciepes!

 

Our first recipe comes from Palestinian. Now if you know anything about Palestinians and zaatar you know how huge the cultural impact zaatar has. More than just an herb and a spice, in Palestinian za’atar, has enormous love and infamy. 

For hundreds of years, Palestinians have harvested the green zaatar leaves. They are an integral part of Palestinian cuisine. You can say that Palestinians as a nation have a deep-rooted love affair with zaatar.

From sandwiches,  Manakeesh (Flatbread topped with a mixture of the za’atar spice blend and olive oil), all sorts of pastries, spice rubs, salads, warm and comforting drinks and natural remedies for colds and flues, Palestinians love their zaatar. 

 

In fact, the Palestinian recipe is the only recipe we right about that has three variations. 

  1. Zaatar akhdar (green oregano): refers to the fresh oregano leaves used to make salads, different types of pastries and warm and comforting winter drinks (fresh oregano boiling water honey= the ultimate drink to treat cough)
  2. Zaatar nashef (dried oregano): refers to dried oregano leaves, these are added to marinades, spice rubs and sauces
  3. Zaatar Dukkah: refers to the spice blend made using dried oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and a variety of other spices

 

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 6 tbsp ground sumac
  • 6 tbsp dried thyme
  • 6 tbsp sesame seeds toasted
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin optional

 

Instructions

  1. Place the spices in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Store in an airtight container. This makes 1 cup.

 

zaatar chicken

Best Labenese Zaatar Recipe 

 

First on the list is a top favorite by many people which comes out of Lebanon and can be used on hummus, bread, or even some savory chicken. 

In Lebanon Zaatar is so common among households such as how common peanut butter is to American households. 

Lebanese Zaatar Spice Blend is a fantastic, tangy, flavorful spice mix of ground sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. The perfect blend to have all over your bread with oil and hummus.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 6 tbsp ground sumac
  • 6 tbsp dried thyme
  • 6 tbsp sesame seeds toasted
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin optional

 

Instructions

  1. Place the spices in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Store in an airtight container. This makes 1 cup.

 

Nutrition   

Calories: 23kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Fat: 1g | Sodium: 437mg | Potassium: 30mg | Vitamin A: 45IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 56mg | Iron: 2mg

 

Syrian Zaatar Recipe 

 

Syrian Zaatar carries on the classic flavor combination of toasted sesame and sumac, but also boasts a base of toasted cumin and coriander with just a hint of anise.

Za’atar is often stirred into olive oil and used as a dip or made into a paste for soft flatbreads and vegetables or applied to bread prior to baking.  

Za’atar also works exceptionally well as a dry rub for chicken, lamb and seafood (especially fish) and partners well with cauliflower and potatoes.

 

Ingredients

  • Sumac
  • Euro
  • Coriander
  • White Sesame
  • Cumin
  • Kosher Salt
  • Anise
  • Lemon Crystal 

 

Instructions 

  1. Place the spices in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Store in an airtight container. This makes 1 cup.

 

Za’atar has woven itself not only into Mediterranean food but history itself. Za’atar has been part of Middle Eastern culture for thousands of years and has been used for everything from food and medicine to perfume. To understand the significance of za’atar you need to understand its history.

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