What exactly is Za'atar?
Za'atar (Arabic: زَعْتَر , also known as zaatar, za'tar, zatar, zatr, zattr, zahatar,
zaktar or satar, is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs. These include Origanum (oregano), Calamintha (basil thyme), Thymus (thyme), and
Za'atar is also the name for a condiment made from the dried herb(s), mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt, as well as other spices. Both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Middle East, including Armenia, Iran, Palestine, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco. In many families, unique blends are passed down from mother to daughter.
Will the real Za'atar please stand up?
Each country has its own unique blend that can vary widely in taste and color. Dried sumac, which has a tangy lemon flavor and deep red color, is especially common in Jordanian za'atar blends. Syrian za'atar is usally brownish in color, due to pepper and cumin. Lebanese may add dried orange zest for breakfast dishes, while Israeli blends may include dried dill. My personal favorite blend includes plenty of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds for a tangy, nutty taste.
Like many spice mixtures in the Arab World, za'atar is high in anti-oxidants, which help prevent cancer and heart disease, among other illnesses. In the 12th century, the Spanish Jewish philosopher Maimonides is said to have prescribed it to his patients to treat a variety of ailments. Modern studies have concluded that he had good reason for this. Sumac is full of flavonoids, and thyme and oregano are packed with thymol (an essential oil), which has antioxidant, anticeptic and fungicide properties.
Besides the health benefits, it is an extremely versatile condiment and can be sprinkled on just about any savory dish, including bread, hummus and other dips, meat marinades, soups, stews, etc.
Za'atar's uses are practically limitless and as flexible as its ingredients!