What is Za'atar in English and other FAQ's - Blog
What is zaatar?
Zaatar is an Arabic word that refers to both a herb spice mixture, as well as a herbal plant, in the mint family, and native to the East Mediterranean region.
What is zaatar in english? How do you pronounce and spell zaatar?
Zaatar is an Arabic name and pronounced as zaah-tar in English. Common spellings include Za'atar and Za'tar. Arabic romanization sources at Library of Congress suggest zatar is the more correct English spelling. The zaatar plant is sometimes referred to as wild thyme. It is also known in botanical sources as Syrian Oregano.
What can I do with zaatar? What is zaatar used for?
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, soups, sandwiches, flat breads,popcorn, and ingredient in many appetizer and main dish recipes.
What does zaatar taste like?
It depends on quality and freshness, and would describe an authentic mix as earthy, grassy, little tart, and nutty herb spice mix. It has the texture of ground (but not too fine) oregano/thyme-like herbs with mildly toasted sesame seeds. The texture should not be that of a fine spice powder, but more fluffy and free flowing.
Is all zaatar the same?
No. The choice, proportion, and quality of ingredients vary immensely from one brand and mix to another. Also, the zaatar name is increasingly misused to include spice mixes that contain no ingredients and flavor from its authentic to its Middle-Eastern heritage
What is zaatar made of? what are the ingredients in zaatar?
The mainstay ingredients of authentic zaatar mix are ground genuine zaatar herb ( scientific name: Origanum syriacum, and also called Syrian oregano or Bible hyssop), sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and little sea salt. However, most commercial brands on the market use various substitutes to mimic the genuine ingredients as well as fillers to increase volume. Substitutes for the Syrian Oregano/Hyssop may include oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory with varying degree of quality and freshness. Fillers include wheat, peanut, peas, chickpeas, ground straw (no kidding), or other often undisclosed fillers. In low quality blends, citric acid is often used as substitute for sumac. Learn more here.
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 genuine ground Zaatar herb (Origanum syriacum, also known as biblical hyssop2) that is rich in essential oil content. As with any herb, qualities (measured by the essential oil content) vary for the same herb depending on cultivation and climate and is evident in the flavor and aroma. Also the Za'atar blend must contain no fillers, like wheat, and made with a quality sumac with no salts and oils added (For example, beware of brands that use citric acid as substitute for top-shelf quality sumac)
The composition of the essential oils found in the Zaatar plant grown in the East-Mediterranean is mainly (50% to 80%) thymol or carvacrol, followed by other compounds. Essential oil extracts from both thyme and mint family 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 and often an active ingredient in cough medicines and others. Therefore for example, quality Zaatar herb leaf may be chewed for sore throat and chest infections. Zaatar tea leaf is also a popular herbal tea and drunk for health benefits including after meals to aid digestion. Essential oil from thyme and oregano plants are also used for their antioxidant properties to preserve foods. These medical and food 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, reducing infection risks, and other antiseptic benefits.
We invite you to try Tyme Foods's pure Zaatar herb leaf as well as the zaatar spice mix.
How to compare and buy a zaatar spice blend?
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 blend - 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 genuine zaatar herb (Hyssop / Syrian oregano) from East Mediterranean region are not common. 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.
We of course invite you to try our brand of zaatar spice blend which we believe will raise and set your expectations on zaatar quality and flavor.
Is zaatar gluten free?
Most zaatar mixtures on the market are not as they contain ground roasted wheat. However, some zaatar mixtures are gluten free if the claim is from an accountable and credible source.
Any allergy information for zaatar?
Zaatar mixtures vary and may contain numerous spices and fillings like wheat and others. Ingredients of traditional mixtures often include sesame seed, sumac, and thyme-oregano-marjoram herbs which are in the Mint family. Its best to find a trustworthy brand and ask them to make sure.
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.
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.
What is the shelf life of zaatar?
About two years 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.
What is the scientific name and species of the Zaatar (Hyssop) plant?
Origanum syriacum, and a synonym name is Majorana syriaca, in the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. (2) It is a unique specie. Some attempt mixing Thyme, Oregano, and Marjoram to mimic the aroma and flavor complexity of Origanum syriacum plant.
What is the chemical composition of the essential oils in the Zaatar (hyssop) herbal plant?
The essential oil content of the plant varies from 0.5% to 3.8% (the higher the more flavorful). Of that, the composition varies between mostly (50% to 85%) Carvacoral or Thymol, followed by up to 15 more compounds like p-cymene, v-terpinene, caryophyllene, myrcene, and others. (see this research for more details)
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.