WHAT IS ZAATAR?
Zaatar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs and salt. It’s up there with Old Bay as being a must-have kitchen spice. Also known as Middle Eastern or Syrian oregano, it usually consists of dried oregano, thyme, majoram, sumac, and toasted sesame seeds. Other herbs and spices are often added including zest, dill or salt. You can easily mix these in a food processor or coffee grinder. Dating back over a thousand years, today it’s a popular ingredient in the levant countries (eastern Mediterranean) of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. The versatility of this staple shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s used to flavor olive oil, cream cheese, meat, vegetables and even popcorn! However if you’re not sure how to use this ingredient, treat it like you would oregano.
WHY IS ZAATAR GOOD FOR YOU?
It’s full of flavonoids and anti-oxidants with antiseptic and fungicidal properties. A popular homeopathic remedy, it’s thought treat a variety of disorders. Its benefits range from aiding the immune system, skin health, bone density, circulatory and respiratory health, inflammation, and even improving your memory!
WHEN IS ZAATAR IN SEASON?
Being dried spices, this blend is available year-round! However fresh spices do have an impact on the quality of the flavor. Local, ethnic markets are usually a better choice. This way you can buy your ingredients fresh and mix them at home yourself.
HOW SHOULD ZAATAR BE STORED?
So there is a bit of debate regarding this. Traditionally a dry spice mix is sealed in an air-tight container and kept in a cool, dark cupboard. However in addition to spices there are sesame seeds. These tiny little bundles of essentially fat will over time turn rancid. Because of this zaatar is better stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer to preserve freshness.
HOW CAN ZAATAR HAVE GLUTEN IN IT?
Authentic versions of this recipe do not. However some bakeries in particular will use cheap substitutes to cut the real herbal ingredients down by half. This was a huge scandal in Lebanon a while back but can occur anywhere. The reason bakeries in particular are the culprit is because of the use of “wheat shavings.” Basically left-over, unsold bread is used as a filler in the recipe. This practice is not as shocking as it first sounds. Many classic recipes focus on recycling left-over food to save on money. French toast is perhaps the most classic example.