Za’atar spice is a unique blend of herbs and seeds. We love it for its aromatic, herby flavor and crunchy texture. But if you haven’t had it before, you may be wondering what it really tastes like and if the term “za’atar spice” should be taken literally.
We’re here to give you the inside scoop on what you need to know about this beloved Middle Eastern seasoning blend. That includes where the tasty spice blend comes from, what it tastes like, how it’s made (and what it’s made from), and, of course, how you can use more za’atar at home.
We’re on a mission to bring some extra zest to your life, and za’atar is one of the best ways to do it.
Is Za’atar Spicy?
First, what does za’atar taste like? It’s an important question, especially if you’re considering adding a jar of our olive oil za’atar condiment or dry za’atar seasoning to your pantry.
Unlike other spice blends you might know and love, like chili powder or taco seasoning, za’atar doesn’t actually have a lot of heat. Traditionally, there are no hot and spicy ingredients like dried peppers. Instead, the ingredients in za’atar give it a distinct flavor profile that’s:
- Herby and fresh tasting
- Bright and zippy, with a hint of citrus flavor
- Nutty and crunchy (the secret is sesame seeds)
The seasoning blend also has a distinctly round and creamy texture. That’s in part due to the sesame seeds and the premium sunflower oil we use to toast them.
Can I Find Spicy Za’atar?
Yes! If you’re looking for a pantry staple that has all the savory, zesty flavors of classic za'atar spice blend with a bit of a kick, you’ve come to the right place.
Our spicy za’atar olive oil condiment is made with dried chili peppers for just the right amount of heat. The spice is balanced by premium extra-virgin olive oil, sesame and dried thyme for a blanched and versatile condiment or sauce.
Ingredients in Za’atar Spice Blend
So where does za’atar get its distinct flavor? The spice blend is made with a few simple but very important ingredients.
1. Mediterranean Thyme
Also known as (you guessed it) za’atar, Mediterranean thyme is an herb that grows throughout the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region. Like the thyme that’s native to North America, this plant has a warm, grassy and aromatic flavor and smell.
To make za’atar spice blend with the plant za’atar, we have to dry the leaves first. Drying concentrates the herb’s flavor so you get the most bang for your buck. It also prolongs the shelf-life of the leaves, so you can store our za’atar seasoning in a cool, dark place for months without losing any bright and zesty flavor.
A dried herb that you're probably familiar with, oregano is similar to Mediterranean thyme in its earthy, savory flavor. It adds a nice grounding balance to the brightness of the dried thyme in our spice blend.
3. Sesame seeds
White toasted sesame seeds are the secret to the crunch and body in our za’atar spice blend. Sesame seeds are an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. Not only do they have a distinctly warming and hearty flavor, but they also can be made into a delicious buttery spread called tahini, which is an excellent nut-free substitute for peanut butter in baking and savory cooking. Sesame oil is also a popular cooking oil that can add a ton of flavor to hummus, salads, and much more.
Toasting the sesame seeds in sunflower oil is essential for making the most flavorful za’atar. Toasting brings out the seeds’ natural flavor compounds and adds a warm, toasty flavor to our za’atar spice.
Sumac is another dried herb that’s native to the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. It’s distinguished by its deep, bold crimson color that gets even more eye-catching when the plant’s leaves are dried. The flavor of sumac really puts the zest in Zesty Z. It’s incredibly citrusy and tart tasting, which is why it needs the balance of sesame and za’atar in the blend.
If you love bright, tart flavors, we really lean into the sumac in our Mediterranean Everything Bagel Seasoning, which is full of the beloved red herb.
Where is Za’atar From?
The za’atar plant (aka Mediterranean thyme) is native to the Middle East, where it grows as a wild herb. The flavor became so popular for cooking and baking, however, that it quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean region. Today, farmers throughout the region cultivate za’atar plants to make their own seasoning blends.
What do you Use Za’atar Spice For?
You can use this spice in nearly any dish that you want a flavor boost. For starters, sprinkle dried za’atar spice on oiled veggies before roasting or grilling them. It makes an effortless side dish with real Middle Eastern flavor.
For more recipe inspiration, check out our archive where we’re always sharing new delicious zesty za’atar recipes like:
- Za’atar Avocado Toast, which is a go-to breakfast around here on crusty sourdough.