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Za'atar FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Za’atar?

Za’atar refers to both an oregano-like herb condiment and also a herb spice blend enjoyed as seasoning and dip food along with olive oil.  Za’atar is also the name of the source plant species native to the East Mediterranean region.

2. Is Za’atar 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.  Za'atar is also known however as Syrian or Lebanese Oregano.

3. How do you pronounce and spell Za’atar?

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

4. Is Za’atar 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.

5. Is all Za’atar the same?

No. Qualities and flavors of the herbal plant vary a lot from region to region and farm to fram.  On the Za’atar mixture, there are no universal standards on what may be called Za’atar.  The choice and ratio of ingredients vary a lot from one brand to another.  Importantly, the grades of the mainstay ingredients often differ substantially.

6. What can I do with Za’atar?

Traditionally in the Middle East, Za’atar the mixture is primarily a dip food enjoyed by dipping bread into olive oil then dipping the olive oil soaked bread into the Za’atar. However, Za’atar is increasingly popular and enjoyed as a condiment and seasoning in many salad, appetizer, and main dish recipes.

7. What are the ingredients in Za’atar?

The classic or mainstay ingredients are ground Za'atar herb (wild thyme), sumac, and roasted sesame seeds. Low quality blends use substitutes such as citric acid in place of Sumac.  Generally, variations of the classic blend contain one or more of the following fillings and spices: 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.

8. What is the shelf life of Za’atar?

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.

9. Is Za’atar gluten free?

Most Za’atar mixtures on the market are not as they contain ground roasted wheat. However, some mixtures are wheat and gluten free if the claim is from an accountable and reliable source (as is the case with all food labeling claims)

10. Any allergy information for Za’atar?

Za’atar 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.

11.What is the scientific name and species of the Za’atar plant?

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

12. What is the chemical composition of the essential oils in the Za’atar herbal plant?

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

13.  What are health benefits of Za'atar?

A requirement of course for there to be a health benefit is a pure Za’atar mix with a significant portion of ground quality Za’atar herb that is rich in essential oil.  The composition of the essential oils found in the Za’atar 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 and also a number of other compounds.  Essential oil extracts from both thyme and oregano, as well as the herbal leaves, are popular in alternative medicine and herbal supplement products.

Thyme and thyme oil are used as fumigants, antiseptics, disinfectants, and mouthwashes. Thyme is taken by mouth for throat and chest infections, and fresh leaves may be chewed to relieve sore throats. Essential oil from thyme has wide industrial uses including to preserve processed foods as well as a flavoring agent. Za'atar 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.