Learn about the difference between za’atar and dukkah: two spice mixtures with some important similarities and differences.
It’s understandable that one might get za’atar and dukkah confused, especially if you’re not familiar with these Mediterranean pantry staples. However, there are some notable differences between the two ingredients.
Here's what you need to know about both za’atar and dukkah and what sets them apart.
What is Dukkah Made Of?
Dukkah is a mixture of various herbs, nuts and spices. It comes from Egypt and is used throughout the Middle East. Other common spellings include duqqa and du’ah.
Dukkah is a dried mixture that can be turned into a dip with olive oil for bread, or sprinkled over dishes to add a finishing pop of flavor and texture.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different recipes for dukkah. The proportions and specific ingredients change from house to house, but there are a few common ingredients you’ll find throughout the Middle East.
These include herbs, nuts and spices like:
- Sesame seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Green peppercorns
- Pine nuts
What is Za’atar Made Of?
Like dukkah, za’atar is also a dried spice blend. It can be used to sprinkle over cooked vegetable and meat dishes, or stirred into olive oil or yogurt for a savory dip.
The ingredient list for za’atar, however, is much shorter. Though you’ll find other recipes for za'atar, at Zesty Z we stick to the most traditional ingredients that optimize flavor and texture:
- Mediterranean thyme
- Dried oregano
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower oil
How to Know: Is it Dukkah or Za’atar
If you end up with a jar or container of an unknown spice blend that looks crunchy and flavorful, you may wonder whether it’s dukkah or za’atar. There are a few ways to identify whether you’re working with one spice blend versus the other.
First, consider the color. Because of the strong herbal nature of za’atar, most blends have an earthy green color. Dukkah, on the other hand, can range in color from green to brown. Depending on the kinds of nuts and amount of spices like cumin and cayenne in the mixture, the color will vary widely.
In addition, give the spice blend a smell. If it’s bright and herby with the aroma of thyme or oregano, chances are it’s za’atar. If the blend is spicier or very nutty, you’re probably working with dukkah.
Finally, taste the blend. Dukkah tends to have a much chunkier texture with larger pieces of nuts and seeds. Za’atar will have some crunch from sesame seeds, with a deeply earthy flavor and a bit of zip from sumac.
At the end of the day, whether you’re working with za’atar or dukkah, you have a delicious and versatile Middle Eastern spice blend on hand that goes great on a variety of dishes, so enjoy!
Can I Substitute Za’atar with Dukkah?
In a pinch, za’atar and dukkah make good culinary substitutes for one another. While you can’t replicate the unique flavor of real za’atar, dukkah does a nice job of adding herbs, nuts and spices to your dishes.
How to Use Za’atar
Many of the recipes from our archives work well with both za’atar and dukkah. Of course, we’re partial to the way cooking with the dried herbs and seeds in za’atar brings flavors to life. To try it for yourself, give one of these popular recipes a try: