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Za’atar – The Best Spice in the Middle East


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.

  1. Thomas Dembie says:

    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!

    • Adam says:

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

  2. frank says:

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

  3. JR Riel says:

    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!

  4. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas says:

    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!

  5. Steve says:

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

  6. Sandra Foyt says:

    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!

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

  8. Micki says:

    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.

  9. Larissa says:

    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!

  10. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family says:

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

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. […] Adam of Travels of Adam- Za’atar Spice – The Best Spice from the Middle East! […]

  14. noel says:

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

  15. Cassie says:

    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

  16. OCDemon says:

    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.

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

  18. 11 Reasons Why Tel Aviv is One of My Favorite Cities says:

    […] it about the Middle East and why is their food so damn good?! I’m not sure if it’s the spices, the fresh ingredients or the unique mix of flavors, but whatever it is — it’s delicious […]

  19. […] is it about the Middle East and why is their food so damn good?! I’m not sure if it’s the spices, the fresh ingredients or the unique mix of flavors, but whatever it is — it’s delicious and I […]

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