za'atar

I first discovered za’atar spice when Couchsurfing in Haifa, Israel. My host for the weekend took me for a short road trip in the surrounding villages (famous for the Druze culture). On our way to Ein Hod, an artists’ colony on the side of a small mountain, we stopped at a road side stand for a snack: pita bread with labneh (a yoghurt) and za’atar spice. The freshly cooked bread made for a tasty snack — but the real flavor came with the small bit of za’atar sprinkled between the bread roll. It was love from the very first taste. Sometimes your tongue just knows what it wants.

After returning to Tel Aviv I immediately made my way to the Shuk HaCarmel (market). There it was quite easy to find the spice (which also goes by the name Hyssop), and after doing a quick taste test with the elderly woman selling spices, I bought several hundred grams. This tradition continued for the rest of my summer in Tel Aviv back in 2010.

What did I use za’atar for, though? Honestly, I didn’t mind putting it on just about anything. But mostly (as I was just a volunteer and living on a meager budget), I would buy tubs of hummus, sprinkle some fresh olive oil and za’atar on top — maybe with some cut-up cucumbers and tomatoes — and call it a meal. A very tasty meal.

If you’re looking for a cheap but delicious spice to add a bit of middle eastern flavor, definitely go with za’atar. I also used it in a Jordanian desert that I learned how to make at a cooking class in Petra, Jordan. You’ll find the spice by a variety of different names, and it’s actually quite simple to make yourself. Za’atar is essentially just a mixture of olive oil, sumac, salt & sesame.

Let me know if you’ve used the spice for any other recipes. I’m always looking for new ways to use my favorite ingredients.

Update: So, I wrote and scheduled this story about my favorite Middle Eastern spice before coming to Israel this week, and as it turns out, some other journalist also felt the need to publicly proclaim his love of the spice…which as often happens with silly stories, it was quickly blown out of proportion.

Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

21 comments

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  1. Pingback: Why Tel Aviv Is A Great City - Pinoria

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  3. I frequently use it to add more flavor to the food, love its unique flavor

  4. That’s quite a lofty title given the fierce competition for such status. I bet it’s as ferociously contested as Asia’s best rice competition.

  5. A Lebanese friend turned me on to za’tar a few years ago and I use it a lot, most of all paired with labneh and a drizzle of a good olive oil… yum! I need to get to the Middle East one of these days

  6. I’ve never heard of this, I’m curious to how it taste, sounds like it would work well with many dishes

  7. Pingback: What is the Best Foods on the Planet? 18 Travel Bloggers Answer- RTW Food Photo Carnival | The Nomadic Family Travel Blog

  8. Coming from a middle eastern background, Za’atar was always a joy for eating. If you had the chance, pass by Lebanon as they have different kinds/types of this amazing spices.

  9. as i told you in my last email, i love zatar and miss it dearly, with fresh hot pita and labene. omg, i miss it. tell israel hi from me, ok adam?

  10. Yum! Sounds absolutely delicious. I love simple little things like this that make ordinary food taste amazing.

  11. Love za’atar! Also discovered it in Israel–went to a small restaurant for pizza. We were served a flatbread with za’atar on top as a starter. The pizza was so-so, but the starter was FAB!

  12. Love this spice. It’s funny, though, I’ve never known that it ha a specific name… I always assumed it was just a great blend of other herbs, at the discretion of whatever cook was in the kitchen that day.

  13. i love za’atar. we put it on flatbreads with feta. YUM!

  14. I love exotic spices, and have been known to bring them home as souvenirs. Only problem is that I don’t cook, so they end up being pungent reminders of past travels. Enjoy!

  15. I was only recently introduced to sumac, and love sesame, so za’atar sounds like my new favourite spice.

    • You won’t regret it!

  16. Friends of our just got back from Israel and Jordan and bought us a satchel. It’s or go-to for breakfast and dresses up our toast quite a bit!

  17. Beautiful! I love the idea of vibrant spices found in local markets. This was something I thought I hadn’t heard of before, until you mentioned it’s also called hyssop. A friend of mine just told me about hyssop last week, it supposedly has some healing properties when used as an oil as well. Interesting to read that it can be used as a spice and flavor enhancer!

  18. pita bread and Za’atar are very popular in middle east.. i have also tasted it, delicious..

  19. I love this stuff as well. It’s a great ingredient to use if you want to build an Arabic style pizza (manakeesh). Add it to a pita with some labneh (yoghurt) and you’ve got a great snack!

    • Yep the pita with labneh and za’atar is one of my favorite snacks here in the Mideast!

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