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za-atar-msg - 7/24/06


A middle eastern spice mixture containing za'atar as a main ingredient. Za'atar is a member of the mint family and is similar to thyme.


NOTE: See also the files: spices-msg, herbs-msg, spice-mixes-msg, merch-spices-msg, sumac-msg, p-herbals-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


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    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 18:32:51 EDT

From: LrdRas at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - OOP  Lebane


phlip at morganco.net writes:

<< What's za'atar or Zaatar?

Phlip >>


It is a middle eastern spice mixture containing ground sumac as a main

ingredient. Lady Seton gifted me with some a few month's ago and,

unfortunately it is gone and I have not been able to find more or a recipe

that is coherent. ;-( Good stuff!





Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 19:03:12 EDT

From: Seton1355 at aol.com

Subject: SC - recipe for za'tar


Here is the recipe for za'tar.  






2 teaspoons oregano flakes

2 teaspoons basil, chopped up

2 tablespoons ground thyme

1 teaspoon whole thyme

2 teaspoons savoury

2 teaspoons ground marjoram

1/2 teaspoons whole dry marjoram

1 tablespoon sumac (if available - see Middle Eastern store)

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

zest of two lemons, very finely minced


Blend together and use for Zataar flatbread. Makes a scant 1/3 cup.



Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 09:07:49 EDT

From: Seton1355 at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar


<< Interesting that you all seem to say that zahatar/za'atar is sumac.  

Everyone here says it's hyssop (and that the other ingredients in the made

up stuff are chiefly sesame seeds - what else - and salt).  Hmm.  This needs

some investigating.  Will try to ask further at this end.

Cairistiona >>


I'll bet that there are recipe variations.  But I got my recipe from an Iraqi

Jew living in Jerusalem.....



I'd love to have some other variations.   (I;ll have to check with my

Lebanese friend)



Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 08:37:49 -0700

From: lilinah at earthlink.net

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar


>I'll bet that there are recipe variations.  But I got my recipe from an Iraqi

>Jew living in Jerusalem.....


>I'd love to have some other variations.   (I;ll have to check with my

>Lebanese friend)


Za'atar is an herb, in the marjoram/oregano family. Za'atar is NOT sumac.


What is sold commercially is often blended with sumac and lightly

toasted sesame seeds, but the base of the za'atar blend is za'atar



As marjoram is much milder than the oregano we usually find, i would

recommend using that if you want to make your own.





Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 19:12:10 EDT

From: Peldyn at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar



Thymbra spicata


Zatar tastes like hearty thyme and is famous in Arabic and North Afircan



A low growing shrub of the mint family.





Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 00:34:26 -0000

From: "=?iso-8859-1?Q?Nanna_R=F6gnvaldard=F3ttir?=" <nannar at isholf.is>

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar


>> Interesting that you all seem to say that zahatar/za'atar is sumac.

>> Everyone here says it's hyssop (and that the other ingredients in the made

>> up stuff are chiefly sesame seeds - what else - and salt).  Hmm.  This needs

>> some investigating.  Will try to ask further at this end.


>> Cairistiona >>


>Za'atar is an herb, in the marjoram/oregano family. Za'atar is NOT sumac.


>What is sold commercially is often blended with sumac and lightly

>toasted sesame seeds, but the base of the za'atar blend is za'atar



Miriam Al Hashimi, in Traditional Arabic Cooking, and Anissa Helou, in

Lebanese Cuisine, say za’atar is thyme, but that the term is usually used to

refer to a blend of spice, containing thyme, wild marjoram, sesame seeds and

sumac. Al Hashimis recipe is:


1 part thyme

1/2 part wild marjoram

1/4 part roasted sesame seeds

1/8 part sumac


The Oxford Companion to Food says: "... the Arabic name for wild thyme,

commonly denotes a mixture of that herb with sumac, usually but not always

with toasted sesame seeds. Another ingredient can be the ground seeds of

Pistacia terebinthus, a relation of mastic ... Tucker and Maciarello (1994)

have drawn attention to the occurence of zaatar as part of the names of

several kinds of hyssop, thus:

Za’atar rumi or franji (Roman or European hyssop), Satureja thymbra;

Za’atar hommar or sahrawi (donkey or desert hyssop), Thymbra spicata;

Za’atar farsi (Persian hyssop), Thymbra capitata"


Claudia Roden says in The Book of Jewish Food that zahtar is a mixture of

wild thyme, roasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt.

The rest of my Middle Eastern books are at my workplace but I’ll look

tomorrow and see if they can shed any further light on this.



Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 22:29:46 EDT

From: LrdRas at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar-OOP


Peldyn at aol.com writes:

<< Zatar- Thymbra spicata>>


OK. I am presuming that you are associating this word with za'atar. The

references I have in all my middle eastern collection indicates that za'atar

and zatar although both used are, in fact, distinctively different from each

other and not used interchangeably.

<<Zatar tastes like hearty thyme and is famous in Arabic and North African



Possibly. I do not have any cookbooks from Saudi Arabia. However, I have 3

generalized North African cookbooks and I have not found it as an ingredient

in recipes from either book. Perhaps it occurs in a more regionally specific

cuisine? Which part of North Africa? Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya?


Za'atar has a distinct lemony flavor caused by the sumac which, contrary to

posted information is the predominate ingredient (1 T compared to 1/2 to 1

tsp of each of the other ingredients posted in the recipe). Both a Turkish

friend and a Lebanese friend have told me that they are unaware of any

za'atar recipes which contain zatar since this thread started. They do

confirm the occasional use of zatar in home based cooking.


Zatar does NOT appear in any translated medieval middle eastern recipes that

I can find while sumac appears with regularity.


This is a mystery but I am sure  that between the posters interested we can

work it all out in the end. :-)


<< Peldyn >>



Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 15:37:17 EDT

From: Peldyn at aol.com

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar-OOP


The book I have, Rodales Herbal Encycolpedia  says that zatar is combined

with sumac and sesame seeds to make a seasoning.


It said that it is often spelled za'atar.





Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2000 20:00:15 CEST

From: "Christina van Tets" <cjvt at hotmail.com>

Subject: SC - zahatar


Hello the list!


I now have my packet of commercially prepared zahatar in front of me, and

can copy the ingredient list:  Zahatar, sesame seeds, spices [cretins - why

can't they name them?] salt, sumac, olive oil.


On further asking around here, people are still insisting that zahatar is

hyssop.  They say that the recipe is different in other countries, but here

apparently the correct thing to use is hyssop (which has left me even more

confused than ever, as to my mind it couldn't be the same thing if you don't

use zahatar/hyssop).





Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2000 00:59:40 -0700

From: lilinah at earthlink.net

Subject: SC - za'atar


My previous remarks were based on getting za'atar in a Lebanese shop

near me. In fact, because i recognized what it was, the owner *gave*

me a small bag of the stuff. He said it was a blend of za'atar (or

maybe zatar, i'm not yet sensitive enough to hear the difference),

sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. Sumac alone had a different name, not

like za'atar or zatar. I've gone back and bought more from him.


I also have a box a friend brought back from Israel that says in

Hebrew zain-ayin-tav-resh (z'atr). It contains only herb and sesame

seeds, no red sumac berries.


- -------


In "The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean" (1994), Paula Wolfert says:

p. 398


To clear up the confusion: Around the eastern Mediterranean, the word

za'atar is used two different way: to refer to a class of herbs and

to refer to a spice blend of za'atar and sumac.


Fist, the herbs. There are several varieties, bearing various names

in various eastern Mediterranean languages, and they are so prized

for their fragrant savory-oregano-thyme aroma that they are often

called the "king of herbs." None of the recipes in this book call for

the rarely imported herb za'atar; substitutes are

p. 399

always given. If however, you travel to the eastern Mediterranean,

and visit some of its remarkable archeological sites, you may be

approached by children offering to sell you bouquets of za'atar

plants. There are so many different name and varieties, in so many

different languages, that I offer only a few, for the true fanatic:

kekik (Turkey); throumbi (Greece); za'atar rumi (Syria); nadge

(Israel). If you purchase bouquets, dry them in your hotel room, then

use after your return on meat and fish both before and after

grilling. You will not be disappointed.


As for the spice blend za'atar, it is a mixture of sumac, sesame

seeds, and one or more of the various za'atar herbs described above.

It is part of a Middle Eastern breakfast dish of hot flat bread

dipped in olive oil, then sprinkled with the mixture..."


" Mail Order for Live Plants: za'atar (Thymbre spicata); its

substitutes "barrel sweetener" or thyba savory (Saturjea thymbra);

oregano/hyssop (Origanum syriacum; and summer savory; Well-Sweep Herb



p. 407: Well-Sweep Herb Farm, 317 Mount Bethel Road, Port Murray, NJ

o7865. (908) 852-5390


- -------


In her earlier book, "Couscous and other good food from Morocco"

(1973), which she wrote while living there, Wolfert says:

p. 29

"Za'atar (Origanum cyriacum). Za'atar is a sort of hybrid of

thyme-marjoram-oregano. Use any of these three commonly available

herbs or mix them and substitute for za'atar when called for in a

recipe. Do not confuse it with the mixture of thyme and sumac that is

sold as za'atar in some Middle Eastern markets."


Me: From what i can tell from a number of modern ethnic Moroccan

cookbooks, only za'atar herb is used in the Maghrib, not the blend of

za'atar herb, sesame seeds, and sumac that is used in Lebanon and



- -------


From Claudia Roden, "A Book of Middle Eastern Food" (1968).

The author, an Egyptian, quotes the following from "Manners and

Customs of the Modern Egyptians" by E. W. Lane, 1860:

p. 52

"A meal is often made by those who cannot afford luxuries of bread

and a mixture called 'dukkah,' which is commonly composed of salt and

pepper with za'atar or wild marjoram or mint or cumin seed, and with

one or more, or all, of the following ingredients - namely, coriander

seed, cinnamon, sesame, and hummus (or chickpeas). Each mouthful of

bread is dipped in this mixture."


Me: In this case, za'atar is strictly the herb. By the way, Lane's

book is still in print, by Dover.


- -------


Tess Mallos, in "The Complete Middle East Cookbook" (1979), says:

p. 394, "Za'tar [Note spelling. Are the differences among  za'atar,

za'tar, and zatar due to Romanization or real differences in the

Arabic written form or the pronunciation?]

A blend of powdered herbs, including thyme, marjoram and sumak [sic],

with salt added. Sprinkle an oiled khoubiz before baking for a

flavourful flat bread; occsionally used as a flavouring spice mix in

cookd meat dishes. Za'tar also refer to the herb thyme."


- -------


My Moroccan cookbooks by Casablanca native Kitty Morse (don't let the

name fool you) never mention za'atar by any spelling. Perhaps she

dislikes the flavor...


- -------


So much for further clarification at least from my library.


Anahita al-shazhiyya



Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2000 18:49:59 -0000

From: "=?iso-8859-1?Q?Nanna_R=F6gnvaldard=F3ttir?=" <nannar at isholf.is>

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar


I asked an Israeli chef I¥ve been in communication with about zaatar and

this is what he had to say - not sure if it clears anything up, maybe it

just adds to the confusion:


"Now for your qst. There are many mixups about the word Zaatar. Now that's

because that not only it has several meanings in arabic but israelies

changes it again to several others.

In arabic it's used to describe not one plant but a family. It include

hyssops variaties, thyme variaties, etc. For example thyme is "Zaatar -

romi"(roman zaatar), and oregano is "Zaatar ach'dar"(green zaatar) and so

forth. Zaatar can also be the name of hyssop or a varied mixture of herbs.

The mixture would usally contain three kinds of zaatar and sumak. The most

precious ingredient which gives the mixture it's saltiness is "Zaatar -

Parsi"(persian zaatar, I don't know it's english equlivent if there is).

It's a rare plant similar to wild thyme with purple flowers. In low quality

mixtures(and because the plant's protected) salt is added. In the case of

low level sumak(check gail's i posted an artcile about sumak) which gives

the lemony taste - lemon salt is added.

Other additions are seseme and olive oil. In older times "butaneg" was added

which is a relative of pistachio, but as far as i know this custom stopped

fifty years ago. Maybe some rural arabs still keep this tradition. Again'

i'm not sure but as far as i know this "butaneg" can be harmful if not used

correctly. I have'nt found much info on that so excuse me."





Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 21:52:19 -0700

From: lilinah at earthlink.net

Subject: Re: SC - za'atar


MORE on za'atar...


from Paula Wolfert's "Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean"


- ----- (begin quotes) -----

p. 61



"The taste of a za'atar mixture can be herbal, or nutty, or toasty.

In the Middle Easter there are shops where za'atar mix is the only

item sold. There are secret blends, some of which are quite

wonderful. I purchased one in Aleppo but was never able to duplicate

it; you can buy blends at most Middle Eastern markets.


"Israeli" is a pale green blend of pungent herbs that includes the

biblical hyssop, along with toasted sesame seeds and sumac. The

"Syrian" blend, the color or sand, has a decidedly toastey flavor.

The "Jordanian" blend is dark green and very herbal, with some

turmeric. All three blends can be purchased by mail order..."


p. 399:


Mail order for Dried Plain Za'atar: Shallah's Middle Eastern Importing Company


Mail Order for Israeli Za'atar Blend: Adriana's Bazaar


Mail Order for Jordanian and Syrian Blends: Kalustyan, Oriental

Pastry and Grocery; and Shallah's Middle Eastern Importing Company


p. 406:


Adriana's Bazaar, 317 W. 107 Street, New York, NY 10025. (212) 877-5757


Kalustyan, 123 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016. (212) 685-3451


Oriental Pastry and Grocery, 170-172 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

11201. (718) 875-7687


p. 407

Shallah's Middle Eastern Importing Company, 290 White Street,

Danbury, CT 06810. (203) 743-4181


- ----- (end quotes) -----


This may help explain some of the varieties in what those of us who

have za'atar have, why recipes differ, and allow the scientific to

purchase some for comparison purpose.


Anahita al-shazhiyya



From: "Robin Carroll-Mann" <rcmann4 at earthlink.net>

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2001 22:59:17 -0500

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] looking for za'atar


I found one website that sells zaatar seeds.


They say its scientific name is Origanum syriacum.


Other websites, including these:



indicate that it is also known as Majorana syriaca


Brighid ni Chiarain *** mka Robin Carroll-Mann

Barony of Settmour Swamp, East Kingdom



From: Shibl DAMMOUS [shizibzil at hotmail.com]

Sent: Sunday, April 28, 2002 10:20 AM

To: Mark.S Harris

Subject: Za'atar


Dear Sir,


Za'atar (Arabic) is any herb containing thymol and carvacrol and belonging  to either of the following genuses: Satureija, Thymus, Origanum, Coridothymus and Thymbra. Most are perennials.


For culinary purposes a particular balance in essential oils is desirable.

In Lebanon the standard against which any Za'atar is measured is the Za'atar par excellence: Origanum.syriacum (Arabic Zoubâ'a) also its hybrid with O.ehrenbergi (very rare because it only reproducible by cuttings). The reason is the typical fragrance which it is able to impart to Manaqish: a breakfast bakery product.

Next in quality is Thymbra.spicata (Arabic Za'atar akhdar).

Next is Satureija.hortensis (Arabic Za'atar zar'ah) an annual

Next is Satureija.montana a perennial which does not exist in the middle east.

Also usable but too perfumed are Satureija.thymbra and Coridothymus.capitatus.

We have tried with varying success using the many varieties of Origanum.vulgaris.


I suggest one should try, as we did, to compare the different species against the real McCoy.


There is also the other name Za'atar. This refers to a mixture containing the Za'atar plant. This varies to infinity.


The mixture for Manaqish is as follows:

Origanum.syriacum 100

Rhus coriaria powder 50 (careful not to contain crushed seeds)

slightly roasted peeled sesame seeds 200

Salt to taste



Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2005 12:26:04 -0600

From: "ysabeau" <ysabeau at mail.ev1.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] middle eastern food questions

To: Cooks within the SCA  <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


I was looking at something else and found this at the Spice House:




This mixture of sumac, sesame seed and herbs is used frequently in

the Middle East and Mediterranean areas.


It is often mixed with olive oil and spread on bread; sometimes

this is done at the table, other times the mix is spread on the

bread rounds which are then baked. Za'atar also serves as a

seasoning to sprinkle on vegetables, salads, meatballs or kebabs.

Much like sausage seasonings, each country has a distinctive style

of Za'atar, and each family develops its own special blend. Our

particular blend is Israeli in style. Hand mixed from sumac,

thyme, sesame seeds, hyssop, and oregano.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org