Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about Zaatar

What is zaatar, or what does zaatar mean?

Zaatar or Za'tar (zaah-tur) is a common noun in the Arabic language and refers to both a Middle-Eastern herb spice mixture and importantly a distinct herb perennial plant in the mint plant family and native to the East Mediterranean region.  Another common name for the same zaatar plant (not the mix) is bible hyssop.

What is zaatar in English?

Zaatar is an Arabic name and pronounced (zaah-tur) in English. Other common spellings include Za'atar, Za'tar, and zatar. The Arabic romanization table at Library of Congress suggest za’tar is the correct English spelling (though it is not the most widely used.)

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 is a substitute for zaatar seasoning?

To use as a seasoning spice on foods, a substitute may be a mix of Thyme, Oregano, and Marjoram with sumac or another lemony spice and a pinch of sea salt.

What does zaatar taste like?

An authentic mix is savory and tastes earthy, grassy, tart, zesty, vinegary, peppery, and nutty. It combines herbal flavors and texture of course ground oregano, thyme, marjoram combined with a tangy spice and nutty flavor from the toasted sesame seeds, especially if fresh. Yet, many agree that most commercial brands, though may be flavorful in their own way, have strayed away from the finest taste of an original Middle Eastern zaatar.

Is all zaatar the same?

Not , not at all.  The choice, proportion, and quality of ingredients vary immensely from one brand’s mix to another.  Arguably, the taste profile of many zaatar claims on the market is not recognizable compared to the traditional Middle Eastern zaatar.

What is zaatar made of? what are the ingredients in zaatar?

The mainstay ingredients of an authentic zaatar mix are ground genuine zaatar herb (scientific name: Origanum syriacum), sumac spice, roasted sesame seeds, and little sea salt. However, and to lower cost, most commercial brands on the market use various substitutes to mimic the genuine ingredients as well as fillers to increase volume. Substitutes for the mainstay zaatar/Hyssop herb may include oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory with qualities ranging from top to bottom-shelf.  Fillers may include wheat, peanut, peas, chickpeas, ground straw (no kidding), or other often undisclosed fillers. As substitute for a tangy pure sumac, citric acid is often used in the lower quality brands.

What are health benefits of zaatar?

The source of health benefits from an authentic zaatar mix is its mainstay zaatar herb/hyssop ingredient with a scientific name of Origanum syriacum.  According a number of studies including this summary of medical research, the herb’s richness in thymol and carvacrol essential oils offers antimicrobial efficacy, anti-inflammatory efficacy, antioxidant activity, and antitumor efficacy.  Thymol oil for example, is an active ingredient in Listerine mouth wash for treating tooth decay and gum infections and often an active ingredient in cough medicines and others. Folk medicine in the middle east prescribes a zaatar plant’s essential oils for diverse benefits including helping immune system, mental focus, increased energy, digestion, reducing infection risks, and others benefits.

Most zaatar mixes on the market contain very little to no genuine Origanum syriacum because it is expensive.  Importantly most mixes contain unknown fillers and bottom-shelf spices that minimize or negate any potential benefits.  To get the most benefit from this therapeutic zaatar/bible hyssop herb, it’s best to find a quality authentic zaatar mix or enjoy it as a herbal tea.

How to compare and buy a zaatar spice blend?

The qualities can vary from a flavored though tasteless ground straw (and/or with unknown fillings) to a fresh and savory blend with genuine mainstay ingredients.  Look for transparent and specific ingredients.  Avoid brands with unspecific listed ingredients such as “spices” or “middle easter spices” or a generic “zaatar” in the ingredient list.  In general, the better qualities cost twice to four times the price of the fake zaatar mixes.  We of course invite you to try our brand of zaatar spice blend which we believe will raise your expectations on zaatar taste and nutritious ingredients.

Is zaatar gluten free?

Most zaatar mixtures on the market are not as they contain ground roasted wheat because it is an inexpensive filler. 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 that are not included in the ingredients list. Ingredients of traditional mixtures often include sesame seed, sumac, and herbs in the Mint family such as thyme, oregano, marjoram. 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 zaatar plants found in the Holy Land for chemical composition and flavor.

Is Zaatar the same as Oregano or Thyme?

No. The appearance and aroma may be similar but the taste of zaatar the herb (bible hyssop) is different than common oregano and thyme. By some counts, there are some 50 or more oregano- and thyme-like plant species from diverse regions and soils in Europe and the Middle Eat.

What is the shelf life of zaatar?

About one or more years from the date of preparation, which is the time the ingredients are ground and mixed, and if stored in air-tight container and away from sunlight, heat and moisture.  (The sesame ingredient generally has the shortest shelf life while the zaatar and sumac remain flavorful for about two years.)

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 of herbal plants (2).  It is a unique specie native to the East Mediterranean region.

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 content, the more flavor intensity).  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:

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