Za'atar: A Staple Spice Of The Middle East & How To Use It - The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures Za'atar: A Staple Spice Of The Middle East & How To Use It
THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods

Also visit our main website,

Za’atar: A Staple Spice Of The Middle East & How To Use It

Za’atar is a flavorful spice blend used in many dishes throughout the Middle East. It’s also found its way to American fare from crusted tuna to hummus to chicken wings.

The spelling is also romanized as zaatar, zahtar, za’tar, and zatar.

Za’atar (ZAH-tar, American pronunciation ZAH’tar) is both a culinary herb and a spice blend.

  • As an herb, it’s also known as hyssop and is related to basil thyme (a.k.a. basil balm, mother-of-thyme), oregano, savory, and thyme.
  • As a spice blend that includes the herb along with other spices.
  • Za’atar (the herb) is traditionally dried in the sun and mixed with salt, sesame seeds and sumac.
    Used in Levantine cuisine (the approximate area of former Ottoman Syria), both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Mediterranean region of the Middle East.

    In addition to salt and the two base spices (sesame seeds, often toasted, and sumac) za’atar is a blend of savory dried herbs such as oregano or marjoram and thyme, plus toasted spices like coriander and cumin.

    Most Americans are not familiar with sumac. The special tanginess of sumac is the key to the best za’atar.

    Yes, it’s related to the poisonous shrub by the same name, but the red berries of the culinary variety are happily edible (poison sumac has white berries).

    The final za’atar blend is herby, nutty, salty, savory, and slightly tangy.

    Like other spice blends, for example curry from India, the ingredients and proportions vary from region to region.

    In the Middle East, za’atar is commonly eaten with pita, which is dipped in olive oil and then za’atar and is a popular breakfast item.

    The olive oil/za’atar mixture is also spread on a dough base and baked as a bread or flatbread. It can also be baked as a filling within the bread.

    The spice blend is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables and sprinkled onto hummus and labneh.

    In the U.S., za’atar is more commonly sprinkled into EVOO as a bread dipper. But there are so many more uses.

  • Bread: bagels and cream cheese, flatbread, olive oil dip for bread
  • Breakfast: avocado toast, cottage cheese, eggs, Greek yogurt
  • Cheese: roll a goat cheese log, or balls of soft goat cheese
  • Grains: barley, buckwheat, bulgar, farro, rice, etc.
  • Lunch: Grilled cheese, pizza
  • Mezze and spreads: baba ganoush, hummus, labneh
  • Dinner: marinades, rubs for beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, meatball and meatloaf seasoning
  • Sides: flatbread, potatoes, salads, salad dressings, soups
  • Snacks: nuts, popcorn
  • Vegetables: corn on the cob, grilled and roasted vegetables and stews
    A salad can be made of fresh za’atar leaves.

    This dish can be ready in 15 minutes. Thanks to Sid Wainer & Sons for the recipe.
    Ingredients For 2 Servings

    For The Tuna

  • 2 yellowfin tuna steaks, 8 ounces each
  • 4 tablespoons za’atar
  • Olive oil for cooking
    For The Salad

  • 4 cups baby salad greens, pre-washed
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

    1. MAKE the dressing: Combine the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

    2. PREHEAT a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat.

    3. PLACE the za’atar into a shallow bowl. Gently coat the tuna with the spice blend, pressing it gently into the top and bottom of the steaks.

    4. COAT the bottom of the pre-heated pan with olive oil. Place the tuna steaks into the pan and sear for two minutes on each side.

    5. TRANSFER the tuna to a cutting board, and slice it into 1⁄4 in planks. Place the salad greens onto the serving plate, and top with the sliced tuna.

    6. DRIZZLE with the lemon vinaigrette, and serve.

    Za’atar is considered in biblical scholarship to be the ezov of the Hebrew Bible, often translated as hyssop but distinct from modern Hyssopus officinalis [source].

    There is evidence that the za’atar plant was known and used in Ancient Egypt, although its ancient name has not been determined with certainty. Remains of Thymbra spicata, one herb species used in modern za’atar preparations, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

    In Jewish tradition, Saadiah (d. 942), Ibn Ezra (d. circa 1164), Maimonides (1135–1204), and Obadiah ben Abraham (1465–1515) identified the ezov mentioned in the Hebrew Bible with the Arabic word za’atar.

    Za’atar as a seasoning blend first dates back to the Middle Ages (12th century) in Palestine, making it one of the most ancient spice blends in both Levantine culture and in the world [source].

    Once used mainly by Arab bakeries, za’atar is now a common herb blend in Israeli cuisine.

    Hyssopus officinalis, the leading herb in a za’atar blend, is a shrub in the Lamiaceae or mint family (basil, lavender, basil, mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme are also members).

    Hyssop is native to the Middle East, Southern Europe, and the region surrounding the Caspian Sea. As a homeopathic (folk) remedy, it has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant.

    While the plant has been cultivated in the last 50 years, wild za’atar was on the verge of extinction in Israel due to over-harvesting. In 1977, an Israeli law was passed declaring it a protected species, with violators subject to fines.

    If you have an herb garden, you buy seeds and grow it at home.


    Zaatar Crusted Tuna
    [1] Za’atar-crusted tuna. The recipe is below (photo © Sid Wainer & Sons).

    A Field Of Za'atar
    [2] Za’atar, the herb, is also part of za’atar, the spice blend (photo © Burlap & Barrel | Amazon).

    Chicken & Za'Atar

    [3] Chicken loves za’atar seasoning (photo © Burlap & Barrel | Amazon).

    Fresh figs dipped in za'atar
    [4] Sweet and savory: fresh figs dipped in za’atar (photo © Tazah Store | Amazon).

    Bread Dipper: Za'atar in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    [5] Add za’atar to olive oil as a bread dipper (photo © Aromatiques Tropicales).

    Chicken Wings With Honey & Za'atar
    [6] For a change of paste: chicken wings with honey and za’atar (photo © Z&Z Store | Amazon).

    Stew With Za'atar Spice Blend
    [7] Season stews, grains, and soups with za’atar (photo © Victoria Taylor’s Store | Amazon).





    Please follow and like us:
    Pin Share

    Leave a Comment

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures
    Follow by Email

    © Copyright 2005-2023 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.