Za’atar (زَعْتَر), a Middle Eastern Spice Mix with Sumac and Thyme

A quick and easy homemade Za'atar recipe with suggestions on how to use it on flatbreads, with yoghurt and so much more.
Za'atar Lebanese Spice Mix
Za'atar, spices on black background
Za’atar Lebanese Spice Mix

Za’atar is a gloriously fragrant spice mix from the Middle East, specifically, Lebanon. It’s earthy, herbal and tangy, all at the same time. Find out how to make this yourself, and you’ll be thankful you did!

YouTube video is on the recipe card below.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

What is Za’atar?

While Za’atar is also the generic name for certain herbs like wild thyme (Za’atar is thyme in Arabic), oregano and bible hyssop, the term itself is more commonly used to refer to a particular Middle Eastern spice mix.

Now I use the word “particular” loosely here, as every cook, every family, is going to have their own “version”, lighter on this, heavier on that, just like mine is generous with the Sumac, a favourite spice. In fact, I’ve had it many times in the Middle East with just thyme, sumac and sesame seeds.

Our recipe here has all the components of a delicious and aromatic za’atar. As you make it more and more, feel free to experiment a little with the ingredients; keeping the basic mix of herbs, sumac and sesame seeds, I’ve given a few suggestion in this post to get you started.

Manoushe with Za'atar topping, pre bake
Pre bake Manoushe, topped with za’atar and olive oil mix

How to use Za’atar?

Any which way you like! Za’atar can be used to:

  • flavour rice and couscous
  • marinate meat
  • use as a coat for fish, meat, etc
  • lift the plain yoghurt to another level, think raita with a Middle Eastern slant. In the same vein, use it to add an exotic and sexy twist to your favourite dip, be it hummus, soured cream or anything else that takes your fancy.

In the Lebanon, one of the most popular ways of using this aromatic blend is to mix it with olive oil and top a type of flatbread called Man’oushe (plural Manakeesh, Manaqish) with it before baking it in an oven or on a saj (a domed oven). Click on the image above for the recipe.

za'atar, spice photography
Za’atar, Lebanese Spice Mix

Za’atar Ingredients and Method

Cumin

In the video, you’ll see me using pre ground cumin. I toast the cumin, let it cool, grind it in a coffee or spice mill and store in an airtight container until needed. I prefer using ground cumin in my za’atar because it remains in the background and blends beautifully. When it’s pounded from whole, it can stand out a bit more than I like, but it really is a matter of preference.

Sumac

Click here to read more. Sumac is a deep red coloured Middle Eastern spice from the ground berries of the bush with the same name. In the UK, it’s widely available now in major supermarkets, you should always be able to find it in Middle Eastern shops.

Sumac Substitute

Lemon juice and or lemon

If you can get hold of dried lemon peel, just pound it along when making Za’atar or blitz it in a spice mill first. If using the za’atar in a wet recipe, like the yoghurt, bread topping or marinade, then lemon juice will do perfectly.

Ground Dried Persian Limes or Limoo Amani

Click here to read more. These are limes that have been soaked in brine, then left out to dry in the hot sun, and they come in two shades, as you can see in the images here: brown and black. The black limes are just dried a little longer.

These dried limes are salty, sour, a little musky and with just a hint of bitter.

Persian Dried Lime, Limoo Omani
Persian Dried Lime, Limoo Omani

Dry toasting the Sesame Seeds

The sesame seeds are best toasted before being used as this will give you a deeper flavour, with the sesame seeds imparting a nutty flavour and the cumin getting more earthy.

More Spice Mixes on LinsFood

For more spice mixes, head on over to the Ingredients page for mixes from all corners of the world, from the US to Japan, to he Middle East, to Africa. These are just some examples:

If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you!

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood

Lin xx

Za'atar Lebanese Spice Mix

Za’atar – a Middle Eastern Spice Mix

A quick and easy homemade Za'atar recipe with suggestions on how to use it on flatbreads, with yoghurt and so much more.
5 from 21 votes
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Course: Ingredients, Spice Mix
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Keyword: spices
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 8 minutes
Servings: 8 (About a small spice jar amount)
Calories: 20kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • half tsp salt
  • half tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp dried marjoram
  • 3 Tbsp Sumac or 1 tsp lemon peel

Suggested extras

  • Dried rose petals
  • Pepper
  • Dried chillies
  • Dried fruit peels

Za’atar Yoghurt (or Raita)

  • 500 ml natural yoghurt of any type, your taste
  • 1-2 Tbsp za’atar or more, to taste
  • ¼ cucumber chopped into little pieces
  • ½ tomato chopped as finely as possible, including juices
  • ½ green chilli finely chopped
  • 2-3 mint leaves finely chopped

Instructions

  • Dry fry the sesame seeds and cumin seeds for about 3 minutes, as in the video.
  • Pound the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar, adding each one as you go, in the order they’re listed.
  • Store the finished za’atar in an airtight container and keep in a cool dark place. To me, it lasts indefinitely, although its potency will diminish gradually.

Za’atar Yoghurt

  • Mix everything together.

Video

Notes

As mentioned, you can also use za’atar to marinate meat and seafood, whether to roast, cook on the stove or on the barbecue. Add some olive oil or yoghurt to turn it into a wet marinade.

Nutrition

Serving: 1Tbsp | Calories: 20kcal | Carbohydrates: 2.4g | Protein: 0.8g | Fat: 1.3g | Sodium: 470mg | Fiber: 1.5g | Sugar: 0.2g
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
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18 thoughts on “Za’atar (زَعْتَر), a Middle Eastern Spice Mix with Sumac and Thyme”

  1. 5 stars
    Za’atar really is one of the most fragrant and flavour enhancing of spice blends. I almost make mine like you have but without rose petals and dried fruit peels. I can imagine how much more exotic the addition of these extra ingredients would make the mix. Next time definitely!

  2. Gareth Watkins

    Awesome. Making it today! I’ll try it with some yoghurt, but definitely want to make the Lebanese flatbread! Thanks mate!

  3. Hi,I log on to your new stuff named “Za’atar – a Middle Eastern Spice Mix” on a regular basis.Your writing style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing! And you can look our website about تحميل اغانى.

  4. Oh my, so glad I ran into this post! I love za’atar! I can make it home?? Better yet! I have everything but marjoram. I’ll go get it now…

  5. I have a bottle of za’atar in my cabinet all the time but had not made it myself. You have shown me how easy it is. Will definitely be making my own. Thx for sharing.

  6. I love zaatar and usually get mine when I visit my parents in Dubai. A good friend from Palestine makes it for me and it’s just the most aromatic stuff ever. Better than anything I have tried. The specific kind of oregano you need for this recipe is not available here in Germany and making it with regular oregano is good but not what it should be.

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