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How to Use Za'atar

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Za'atar is a fantastic, nutty, and herbaceous spice blend from the Middle East. It's a savory spice blend that has several types of dried herbs, tangy sumac, and toasted sesame seeds.

I'll show you how to use za'atar, how to keep it fresh, what types of za'atar blends there are, and how to create a simple substitute for it.

Za'atar spice in a small plate with a spoon.
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What's in Za'atar

Za'atar has three main flavor components - dried herbs, sumac, and sesame seeds.

The herbs in za'atar are usually a blend of thyme, oregano, marjoram, and/or coriander. Mint, sage, or savory may also be used.

Za'atar almost always contains dried sumac and might have cumin seeds or ground cumin. Finally, za'atar also always has toasted sesame seeds.

In the Middle East, za'atar is made with Lebanese oregano (Origanum syriacum), but it's not always available in the Americas and Europe. Dried Mexican or Mediterranean oregano is a fine substitute.

Za’atar Blends

Za'atar varies by region and some blends contain unusual ingredients that can be closely guarded secrets!

Try some of these blends to see which one you like the best.

Jordanian Red Blend - make a basic za'atar recipe but add an additional tablespoon of sumac. This adds a citrusy flavor and makes the blend.

Jordanian Bulgur Blend - make your usual za'atar recipe but substitute the sesame seeds for an equal amount of toasted cracked wheat (bulgur). Pound the bulgur in a mortar and pestle to break it down.

Lebanese Blend - make your recipe as normal, but add a teaspoon of dried crushed orange peels, ½ teaspoon of anise seeds, and ¼ teaspoon of caraway seeds. Grind the mixture in a mortar and pestle.

Syrian Blend - make your za'atar blend but add a teaspoon of fennel seeds, ½ teaspoon of anise seeds, and ¼ teaspoon of coriander seeds. Grind the mixture in a mortar and pestle.

Herby Blend - make a basic za'atar recipe but add an additional tablespoon of dried oregano for a greener tasting blend.

Butternut squash topped with za'atar on a serving plate.

Recipes with Za'atar

Here are some great ways to use za'atar in your cooking.

Za'atar spice mix recipe

What Does Za'atar Taste Like

Za'atar is a bold-tasting spice blend that's herb-forward. It has a pleasant crunch from the seeds and a citrusy, savory flavor from the sumac.

Initially, it hits your mouth with a herby flavor and then deepens to a sharper, citrus punch at the back of your mouth.

When you're cooking with za'atar you don't really need other spices, because it's a well-rounded blend that's nutty, aromatic, and rich.

Za'atar Substitutions

If you can't find za'atar or don't have all the ingredients to make it, you can use this easy mix.

  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

How to Keep Za'atar Fresh

Za'atar will keep in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Store it in an airtight container like a spice jar or Tupperware.

Za'atar, like all spices, should not be stored next to the oven - this heats the spices and will degrade their flavor over time.

I know some recipes suggest you can store it in the refrigerator. I really don't recommend this - I find sesame seeds don't do well refrigerated for a long period of time. They become soggy, even in the most airtight containers.