Za’atar - Zahatar can be confusing to everyone because its name refers to both a blend of spices, as well as various individual herbs indigenous to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, and popular throughout them.
Herbs called "za’atar" (Arabic for "thyme") include Syrian Marjoram, European Oregano, Syrian Oregano, Winter Savory, Bible Hyssop, and Wild Thyme, just to name a few. All are related to each other as extended members of the thyme family. These plants tend to have pungent, strong aromatic flavors. Many have soft dark green leaves. One, "thymbra spicata" has long dark green leaves and is available as a fresh herb for just a few weeks.
In some countries/regions the herbs are protected species and cannot be harvested or exported.
This herb is indigenous to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The spice blend is popular throughout those same areas.
Regarding the dried herb-spice blend, za’atar usually includes thyme or one of the herbs mentioned above, sesame, and a little salt. However, there are a myriad of combinations for the blend which varies by region, country, and personal taste or tradition. Some blends include: cumin, hyssop, oregano, savory, or sumac.
In Syria, many blends are green with flecks of sesame. Some of Beirut’s blends are more lighter in color because of the inclusion of white thyme flowers. Aleppo blends lean towards the use of ground sesame seeds so their coloring is less green. Most American, and many Jordanian and Lebanese blends are reddish because they include the sumac berry.
Easy Za’atar Blend Recipe:
Combine 1 tablespoon of dried Thyme with 1 tablespoon of toasted white sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon of ground sumac berries. To make Manakeesh bil za’atar, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the dry mixture and spread it over the bread dough before baking.
Za'atar blends are great for sprinkling on pita dipped in olive oil, or as a mixture spread on dough that’s baked (Za'atar Manakeesh or Manakeesh bi za'atar). The blends are delicious on vegetables, hummus and meats.
Za’atar (the herb) leaves can be used for fresh salads, or steeped for herbal teas.
Some believe (most think it’s a myth) that eating a za’atar blend can help make your mind more alert. True believers will eat some before an exam or class.
Share something you know about this spice/herb. Or, share a favorite recipe using this spice.