Za’atar: At a Glance
Za’atar (sometimes spelled zahtar) is an earthy and aromatic blend of savory spices and herbs from the Middle East. With its unique blend of herbaceousness and nuttiness, it delivers much of the flavor that you associate with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Much like salt, za’atar also brings out the flavors of the food you pair it with.
Za’atar is popular in many Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. While the ingredients of za’atar vary, these herb-and-spice blends are always rich in antioxidants.
Cooking with Za’atar
Almost every savory dish can be elevated with za’atar. It can be used as a seasoning like salt or pepper. Just sprinkle it directly onto your vegetables, meats, rice, or salads for a hit of flavor. You can also add a pinch to marinades or swirl a little through your salad dressings and soups.
If you’re entertaining, making a za’atar dip could not be simpler. Just sprinkle za’atar over some plain Greek yogurt, add a drizzle of olive oil, and break out the cucumbers and carrot sticks. If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, try using za’atar in traditional dips such as hummus, baba ghanoush, or tzatziki.
Za’atar can take bread to the next level. Dunk your bread in olive oil and then some za’atar for a tasty treat. For an authentic Middle Eastern taste, make sure to use pita bread. A za’atar paste is also a delicious accompaniment to bread. Simply mix a tablespoon or two of za’atar with a similar quantity of olive oil. Use a little more olive oil if you want to dip your bread; a za’atar-heavy mix is better suited as a spread. For a twist, you can also bake za’atar into a bread mix for a unique loaf.
Za’atar also blends well into butter, sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and ricotta. Simply whip the herb-and-spice blend with these common ingredients to make your spread or dip much more exciting.
Za’atar and labneh, a drained yogurt made into a creamy cheese, is a match made in heaven. Coat dry-cured balls of labneh in za’atar to make shanklish, a popular Lebanese breakfast dish. Similarly, you can mix za’atar in olive oil and coat chicken and seafood. Sear your meal in a pan and enjoy how the sesame seeds in the za’atar crisp up.
After you’re finished cooking with za’atar, remember to store it in an air-tight container in a cool, dark, and dry place. This will prolong the life of your za’atar.
Za’atar: History and Origination
While it’s difficult to pinpoint where za’atar originated, references to spice mixes in ancient texts suggest that it has likely been used since Babylonian times. Certainly, by the Medieval Period, it had become a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Women in the ancient region called the Fertile Crescent, where modern southern Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and northern Egypt stand, made their own za’atar blends. Za’atar was also popular among Moroccan people with Andalusian heritage. At the time, Za’atar recipes were often such closely guarded secrets that women wouldn’t even tell their family members which ingredients they used.
Cultivation of Za’atar
There is a za’atar plant, but, because it’s a protected species, modern za’atar doesn’t contain its leaves. Instead, oregano, marjoram, and thyme are typically used. The term “za’atar” has also become a generic name for a family of herbs that are used in the za’atar herb-and-spice blend.
As with curry powder and berbere, za’atar recipes tend to vary from region to region and even between individual makers. People typically add their favorite herbs and spices in quantities that suit their own tastes. For example, in Israel, za’atar often has caraway seeds. There is no right or wrong way to make za’atar, though there are a few ingredients that you’ll find in most of these Middle Eastern herb-and-spice blends.
Thyme gives za’atar its warmth and depth. Marjoram and oregano lend sweetness. Sesame seeds bring an earthiness. The citrus taste of sumac adds zingy notes. Salt elevates the ingredients, ensuring that this herb-and-spice blend soars.
About Our Za’atar
We proudly make our za’atar right here in the United States from herbs and spices in our own spice shop. This gives us total control of our za’atar and allows us to ensure this herb-and-spice blend always meets the standard you expect from Burma Spice.
We sell za’atar in a range of sizes to suit our customers’ needs. Our small 1-ounce swing-top bottles are perfect for households that are experimenting with za’atar for the first time. We also carry larger za’atar products (up to 40-ounce jars) that are perfect for busy commercial kitchens. Whether you need a little za’atar or a lot, Burma Spice is here to help.