Zaatar, a Versatile Middle Eastern Spice Blend

Zaatar is a traditional spice blend used throughout the Middle East. Its key ingredients are oregano, thyme, sea salt, and sesame seeds.

December 10, 2018
Zaatar, a Versatile Middle Eastern Spice Blend

If you’re looking to explore the flavors of the world, zaatar is a great place to start. This spice blend is one of the most common ingredients in the Middle East, and adding it to your recipes is an easy way to put a global twist on your favorite meals. Keep reading to learn about zaatar’s fascinating history, flavor, and health benefits!


What is Zaatar?

Zaatar (also known as za’atar, zahtar, or zatar) is a traditional spice blend used throughout the Middle East. Its key ingredients are oregano, thyme, sea salt, and sesame seeds, though other ingredients like sumac and marjoram are commonly in the mix as well. Zaatar’s green color and aromatic, tangy taste make it the perfect topping for just about anything. There are subtle regional differences too, so eating zaatar while traveling is a great way to explore the flavor differences between areas.

Of course, this spice is not a new addition to Middle Eastern cuisine. Zaatar’s history dates back thousands of years, though its exact origin place is still a mystery. Records show it was used by ancient Egyptians and medieval Arabs. In fact, an ancient version of Zaatar was found in King Tut’s tomb. The spice has a long history in Israel as well and is even mentioned in the Torah. Try it for yourself and discover what people on the other side of the globe have been enjoying for centuries.


How to Use Zaatar

One of the great things about zaatar is its versatility. In the Middle East, it’s often kept on the table as a condiment. Because it contains so many different complimentary spices, it can be used on its own to bring a depth of flavor to any meal in a simple way. Sprinkle it on top of hummus or serve with pita bread and olive oil for a quick Middle Eastern snack, or use it as the key ingredient in your next recipe.

Fattoush salad is a great way to experience this traditional flavor. Like most cold salads, it’s a great place for new cooks to start exploring international cuisine. The zaatar provides a nice bold contrast to the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers in the salad, and the whole thing comes together in minutes. When you move on to your main course, use zaatar as a meat rub. You’ll be surprised how this one ingredient can transform your weeknight chicken dinner into something exotic and delicious.


Zaatar as a Substitute

Because of this versatility, you can also use zaatar in place of other spices while cooking. Use it as a harissa substitute if you’re looking to make spicy dishes milder. This is a great option when cooking for kids. It can also be used as a substitute for thyme or oregano. Since these spices are common ingredients in American recipes, switching them up for zaatar is a great way to bring a Middle Eastern twist to a recipe you’re already familiar with.

The best thing about experimenting with spices is that you can get creative. Try adding zaatar in place of sesame seeds, marjoram, or mint for a new twist on your favorite foods. It’s a great savory substitute for many key ingredients, so keeping a jar around can save you if you run out of another ingredient while cooking!


Zaatar Health Benefits

In addition to its great flavor, zaatar also provides a range of health benefits. Commonly consumed before exams by Middle Eastern schoolchildren, zaatar is known in the region as “brain food” due to the lipophilic acids found in its sesame seeds. This antioxidant has been shown to increase cognition and regulate serotonin levels in the brain. It’s even been used in Alzheimer’s treatments.

The oregano and thyme in zaatar provide the spice blend with two other antioxidants, thymol and carvacrol. These antimicrobial agents promote a healthy immune system and respiratory tract. They’ve also been used to fight inflammation. The herbs in zaatar are mineral-dense as well, making this spice blend rich in iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Like most spices, you can combine zaatar with other ingredients to add additional nutritional boosts. Sprinkling it on top of vegetables or meat adds new antioxidants to already healthy foods. For maximum mineral absorption, try to consume zaatar with some fat, such as olive oil.


How to Make Zaatar

You can make zaatar yourself by purchasing the individual spices and blending them together in your own kitchen. This is a great way to customize the seasoning depending on your taste preferences. Homemade zaatar also makes a great gift! It’s an easy way to share your love of international cooking with friends and family.

To make zaatar, simply purchase the individual spices (thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sea salt, and additional spices like sumac) and mix them together in a bowl. For the best taste, grind the sesame seeds for a few seconds in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle before adding the other ingredients. Be sure to keep your zaatar fresh by storing it in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.

If you’re new to using zaatar, purchase it yourself before you try your hand at making it. It’s the best way to get familiar with the traditional flavors so you’ll know how you’d like to customize it later on.


Where to Buy Zaatar

Purchasing zaatar from a good source not only gets you familiar with its flavor, but it also ensures that you’re getting the highest quality spice blend. Because this blend can be used in so many different ways, getting genuine, top-quality zaatar will keep all of your Middle Eastern dishes tasting fresh and authentic.

Nomads Marketplace makes it easy to buy zaatar and other Middle Eastern pantry essentials like sumac and harissa. This digital marketplace was designed to provide home cooks with the information, recipes, and ingredients they need to explore the flavors of the world. Add our zaatar to your pantry, and you’ll see how easy it is to give your cooking a traditional Middle Eastern twist. Shop Zaatar.

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Comments (1)

Kelly on December 19, 2018

I’ve had trouble in the past finding Zaatar at my local grocery store. I hadn’t thought to make it myself! I appreciate that you’ve put the recipe on here, plus I had no idea that it was “brain food”. I’m going to have to use it more often when I cook!

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