Just what is Za’atar?

Za'atar with pita chips

Recently, we were at a farmer’s market and noticed that a vendor was selling homemade Mozzarella flavored with Za’atar. And it dawned on us that we were seeing that ingredient more and more, so we were inspired to do a little research.

It turns out that Za’atar has a double personality. It is a name used for an herb in the oregano, thyme, savory family (it tastes mostly like oregano), but the name more commonly refers to an herb mixture that dates back to the 13th century. The mixture is used throughout the MidEast and the components vary according to the cook who mixes it, but is almost always made with oregano or thyme, sesame, sumac, and salt. Additional ingredients often are based on geography (orange zest in Lebanon, dill in Israel).

Most families keep Za’atar on the table as a condiment, where it is sprinkled on food directly or mixed into olive oil. In cooking, it is often used as a rub for a variety of meats, fish, and poultry. In particular, It is popular as a sprinkle on toasted bread.

A quick search at the EYB library shows over 100 online recipes highlighting Za’atar a a key ingredient – one of the most user friendly for a Za’atar beginner looked to be this recipe from the Kitchn for Za’atar Pita Chips with Yogurt DipYou can make your own Za’atar or buy it premixed at Whole Foods or online at Penzey’s and other spice sources. 

And for an account of a first-hand encounter with Za’atar, check out this story from NPR, Za’atar: A Spice Mix With Biblical Roots And Brain Food Reputation.

Photo by Stephanie Barlow at the Kitchn 

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