Za'atar Health Benefis and other FAQ -

  1. What is zaatar?

Zaatar is an Arabic word that refers to both a herb spice mixture, as well as a herbal plant native to the East Mediterranean region.

  1. What can I do with zaatar?

Zaatar the mixture is traditionally a condiment and dip food enjoyed by dipping bread into olive oil then dipping the olive oil-soaked bread into the zaatar. Importantly, zaatar is increasingly enjoyed as a seasoning on salads, soaps, sandwiches, flat breads, and ingredient in many appetizer and main dish recipes.

  1. Is all zaatar the same?

No. There are no universal standards on what may be called zaatar (the mixture). The choice, proportion, and quality of ingredients vary immensely from one brand and mix to another.

  1. What is the recipe ingredients of zaatar?

The mainstay ingredients of classic zaatar mix are ground zaatar herb (hyssop or wild thyme native to the East Mediterranean), sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and little sea salt. However, many commercial brands on the market use various and often unreliable spice substitutes and fillings for those mainstay ingredients.  Substitutes may include oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory with varying degree of quality and freshness.

Variations of the classic blend abound depending on availability and budget of ingredients and may contain one or more of the following fillings and spices, with varying qualities: ground wheat, ground peanut, ground chickpeas, ground peas, ground cumin, ground fennel, ground coriander, ground caraway, ground anise seed, ground roasted melon seed kernel, ground roasted watermelon seed kernel, ground roasted hazelnut, dried pomegranate seed, and others.

  1. What are health benefits of zaatar?

A requirement of course for there to be a health benefit of zaatar (the zaatar mix as compared to the Zaatar herb) is a quality blend with a significant portion of ground quality Zaatar herb (Hyssop or Wild Thyme) that is rich in essential oil. As with any herb, qualities vary for the same herb depending on cultivation and climate and is evident in the flavor and aroma, that are functions of the essential oil content of the herb.  Also the blend must contain quality sumac with no salts and oils added (also beware of mixes that use citric acid as substitute for sumac.)

The composition of the essential oils found in the Zaatar plant grown in the East-Mediterranean is mainly thymol followed by carvacrol and other compounds. This compares to mainly carvacrol in Greek oregano and savory oil, followed by thymol. Essential oil extracts from both thyme and oregano herbal leaves are popular in alternative medicine and herbal supplement products.

Thymol oil is used in antiseptics and disinfectants. For example, it is the main active ingredient in Listeren mouth wash for treating tooth decay and gum infections. Zaatar herb leaves may be chewed for sore throat and chest infections.  Zaatar tea is also a popular herbal tea and drunk for health benefits including after meals to aid digestion.  Essential oil from thyme and oregano are also used for their antioxidant properties to preserve foods.  Such current medical uses of thymol and carvacrol essential oils support the enduring health heritage of zaatar herb in the Levant countries. It is believed that those health benefits include helping immune system, mental focus, increased energy, digestion, and reducing infection risks.

  1. How to compare and buy a zaatar spice mix?

There are so many mixtures, brands, and sizes available online. The qualities can vary from tasteless ground straw (and/or unknown fillings) to a fresh and flavorful mix - artisan grown and mixed with honest mainstay ingredients.  Look for transparent and credible ingredients and more recent reviews perhaps as many quality brands have entered the market more recently.  

Mixes with significant portion of true zaatar herb (hyssop/wild thyme from East Mediterranean) are rare.  Substitutes for the zaatar herb are the more common ingredient and can be flavorful if the herbs are fresh and in good grade and portion and may include Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, and Savory herb.

  1. Is zaatar gluten free?

Most zaatar mixtures on the market are not as they contain ground roasted wheat. However, some mixtures are gluten free if the claim is from an accountable and credible source.

  1. Any allergy information for zaatar?

Zaatar mixtures vary and they contain numerous spices and fillings like wheat and others. Ingredients of traditional mixtures often include sesame seed, sumac, and thyme-oregano-marjoram herb which is in the Mint family.

  1. How do you pronounce and spell zaatar?

Zaatar is an Arabic name and pronounced as zaah-tar in English. Common spellings of Za’atar include Za’atar, Zaatar, Zatar, and Zahtar.

  1. Is Zaatar plant the same as the plant Hyssop (ezov in Hebrew) described in the Bible?

Yes, according to the academic botanical research referenced below (and there are others). The authors base their conclusion after investigating prior botanical and theological research, historic use, and chemical analysis of many types of the Za’atar plant found in the Holy Land for chemical composition and flavor.

  1. Is Zaatar the same as Greek Oregano?

No. The appearance and aroma may be similar but the flavor is different. By some counts, there are some 50 or more oregano-like and thyme-like plant species and they vary in aroma, flavor due to different essential oil compositions. Zaatar is also known however as Syrian or Lebanese Oregano.

  1. What is the shelf life of zaatar?

About two years or more from the date of preparation, which is the time the ingredients are ground and mixed, if stored in air-tight container and away from sunlight, heat and moisture.

  1. What is the scientific name and species of the Zaatar (Hyssop) plant?

Majorana syriaca, and a synonym name is Origanum syracum ,in the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. It is a unique specie. Some attempt mixing Thyme, Oregano, and Marjoram to mimic the aroma and flavor complexity of Origanum syracum plant.

  1. What is the chemical composition of the essential oils in the Zaatar (hyssop) herbal plant?

A combination of Carvacoral and Thymol are the major components, followed by up to 15 more compounds.

what is zaatar article cover photo

Zaatar FAQ References:

Fleisher, Alexander, and Zhenia Fleisher. Identification of biblical hyssop and origin of the traditional oregano-group herbs in Mediterranean region Economic Botany, vol. 42, no. 2, 1988, pp. 232–241.