Are Sumac and Za’atar The Same?

If you're wondering if sumac and za’atar are the same, or if you can substitute one ingredient for the other in your favorite recipes, here's what you need to know about these two Middle Eastern spices. 

If you’ve ever enjoyed the ever-popular Middle Eastern flatbread za’atar manouche, with it’s fluffy, chewy texture and generous smear of za’atar seasoning on top, you’re probably familiar with the deeply herby, yet surprisingly refreshing flavor of za’atar. 

One of the secret ingredients in za’atar manouche is another Mediterranean herb: sumac. While za’atar and sumac are not the same thing, they do share some notable overlap in how they’re used and where they come from. 

Let’s clear up some of the confusion about za’atar vs. sumac. 

Are Za’atar and Sumac the Same?

While sumac and za’atar are related, they are actually two different spices. 

To be more specific, sumac is a single-ingredient spice made by drying the leaves of the sumac plant. Za’atar, on the other hand, is a blend of ingredients. Za’atar seasoning includes additional flavoring ingredients like dried Mediterranean thyme, dried oregano, white sesame seeds, and even sumac itself!

The reason that many people get confused about whether or not za’atar and sumac are the same thing is that both are staple ingredients in many cuisines. The ingredients for sumac spice and za’atar seasoning grow native throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. For this reason, you’ll find these spices and flavors in food from Greece, Morocco, Israel, Turkey, and neighboring countries. 

However, if you're making a recipe that calls for za’atar or sumac and you don’t have the ingredients you need, it’s important to know the difference between the two spices and how to use them and substitute for them.

Can I Substitute Za’atar for Sumac?

If a recipe calls for sumac, it probably wants the bright, zippy and citrus-forward flavor of the sumac berry. 

While most za’atar blends, including Zesty Z Za'atar seasoning, (Order your Premium Za'atar Shaker here!) include sumac, the leading flavor in the spice blend isn't as bold as sumac is on its own. Rather, za’atar has a much richer, more earthy flavor profile. For that reason, za’atar is not a great substitute for sumac in cooking. 

Instead, try replacing sumac with lemon zest or juice to mimic the brash, zesty flavor of sumac. 

Does Za’atar Contain Sumac?

Yes, most za’atar seasoning blends do contain some amount of sumac. However, in most cases, the bright sumac flavor is more of a background to the herbaceous tastes of dried za’atar and oregano.

Where to Find Za’atar

If you want to try za’atar made with sumac for yourself, find a Zesty Z retailer near you! Or simply have our dried seasoning or olive oil condiment delivered to your door. Enjoy!