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7 Best Zaatar Substitute For Your Delicious Middle East Recipe

Itching to try out some authentic Middle Eastern cuisine? Is your palate on the hunt for some aromatic and teeming spices? If that’s the case, then Za’atar, a Middle Eastern seasoning blend, could take you a long way in making these flavorful dishes.

Za’atar is a spice blend known for its strong, herby, citrusy kick, along with a crunchy toasted feel from sesame seeds. Adding Za’atar to your dish surely brings forth an herbaceous and unique earthy taste.

Za’atar’s basic ingredients include sumac (a sweet, yet citrusy spice reminiscent of lemon juice), dried herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram, or parsley), and sesame seeds (roasted which induce a nutty texture).

7 Best Substitute For Zaatar 

Zaatar Substitute

Just like how salt works wonders for cuisines, so does Za’atar to numerous recipes all over the Middle East. Its history dates back to medieval times and complements basic dishes like roasted and fried foods.

If you’re making some eggs, barbeque, chicken, bread, and vegetables, Za’atar works divine with these meals.

Two of the Za’atar recipe favorites that you should try are man’oushe and manakish.

Man’oushe is a Middle Eastern meat pizza topped with all the mouth-watering elements such as pickles, labneh, veggies, cheese, and Za’atar. Meanwhile, manakish is another snack favorite – a pita bread simply topped with Za’atar.

Truly, you can make whole heaps of dishes with this citrusy blend. However, you can’t always find a Za’atar especially when you’re in the Western region, can you? 

Worse, Middle Eastern groceries don’t just pop up in the vicinity. You could order them online, but if you’re in a rush, keep in mind that there are many other ways to capture the Za’atar flavor.

Many alternatives capture Za’atar’s zesty and herby flavor. Here is a list of the best Za’atar substitutes you can find in your kitchen

Mixed Herbs, Lemon Zest, Sesame Seeds 

mixed herbs

If there’s an ingredient you’ll have a hard time finding, it is ground or whole berries of sumac. That said, you can replace sumac with a very accessible ingredient like lemon zest.

If there is no sumac or lemon zest, then lemon pepper will be a great alternative to achieve the citrus tang, too.

As mentioned above, a good za’atar requires dried thyme, oregano, and parsley. But if you can’t find any of these, then you can use mixed herbs – a seasoning combining thyme, oregano, marjoram, and basil.

It has the basic ingredients for making Za’atar seasoning that’s why it makes a great substitute.

Mix the following ingredients and add more salt to taste. Voilà! You’ll make a decent Za’atar alternative for your Middle Eastern dish.

  • 1 tablespoon of mixed herbs
  • ½ tablespoon of lemon zest (or lemon pepper)
  • 1/4 fine salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
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Ground Coriander and Sesame Seeds

Ground coriander is another popular spice with a less intense flavor than Za’atar. It is powdered coriander seeds with sweetness, a touch of herbal aroma, and a citrusy tang.

It captures the taste of Za’atar, especially when mixed with 1 tablespoon of ground coriander, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, and ¼ tablespoon of fine salt.

Moreover, it’s cheaper than Za’atar. But if the texture matters to you, take note that ground coriander is finer while Za’atar has a coarser texture.

Shichimi Togarashi

 

ShichimiTogarashi won’t give off the distinct Za’atar taste. However, this Japanese seasoning also carries an orangey zest, a similar nutty texture coming from sesame seeds, and exudes a spicy chili pepper punch.

Simply put, it’s the spiciness, savory, and citrus – all combined into one.

Shichimi Togarashi is made from peppers, sesame seeds, and fermented pepper paste (Kosho). The more popular dishes it’s used for are mostly Japanese cuisines like noodles, udon, steamed rice, meat, and marinated fish. 

Fries, popcorn, crackers, and rice cakes? You bet, this seasoning does well there, too. Moreover, it’s a good spice for Indian and Thai cuisines, too.

Harissa

Harissa is either a powder or pasty seasoning blend. It also popularly takes the role of “ketchup” or “sriracha” in the Middle East and North Africa.

The most common Harissa blend contains smoked chili pepper, together with coriander, mint, and cumin. With these elements, you can imagine a smokey, subtly sweet, peppery taste with mild-to-very hot levels of heat.

However, remember that Harissa differs from Za’atar and may require some adjustments if you’ll use it as a substitute. If you’re aiming for a more Mediterranean dish, go for harissa.

Just be cautious of the amount to put in. We don’t want to add too much spiciness and compensate with drinking water, do we?

You can also make an awesome dip using the following harissa ingredients – red chili, garlic, coriander, cumin, oil, and vinegar or lime juice.

Italian Seasoning

 

Looking for a seasoning that also contains the basic za’atar ingredients? Then Italian Seasoning is probably there already sitting on your shelf.

It also contains thyme, oregano, and marjoram which come close to the fragrance of za’atar. The flavor? It gets close to Za’atar, too, so it’s the best substitute you can use.

Other Italian seasoning blends may also contain basil, sage, and rosemary, with touches of parsley and garlic powder. 

Furthermore, it has a great balance of savory flavors, along with sweetness and earthy taste from herbs. The Italian seasoning’s umami becomes an ultimate touch-up to enhance your potatoes, chicken, fish, and even bread recipes. 

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Moreover, it’s easier to find this spice compared to za’atar.

Dukkah

Dukkah is an Egyptian spice that matches well with olive oil as a dip for pita or crusty bread. It complements Mediterranean cuisines, too. Usually, it’s crunchy, salty, and spicy due to the black pepper element.

There’s no standard taste for Dukkah as the flavor changes, depending on the nuts used. Although it contains similar elements from za’atar, the nuts in it are a game-changer.

You could experiment with more dishes that can pair perfectly well with the Dukkah blend.

How do you make ukkah? First, toast the nuts and the sesame seeds separately. Then, add the seeds, toasted nuts, herbs, and salt into the blender to crush the ingredients. Pulse the blender until you get your desired crunchy texture.

  • Nuts (toasted almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios)
  • Sesame Seeds (toasted)
  • Fennel Seeds
  • Herbs like cumin and coriander (either ground or whole and will be crushed in the process)
  • Fine salt

Make Your Own

 

Can’t find Za’atar seasoning? If you can’t find one in nearby groceries or Asian stores, then why not make your own? You can even make a batch, so you’ll never run out of this citrusy seasoning.

If you either go around Middle Eastern restaurants, you’ll realize that each region carries no definite standard recipe for this spice. Truly, even the flavors from the local Middle Eastern regions vary depending on the availability and regional resources. That said, you can make twists and turns on your Za’atar taste, too.

To make your own Za’atar, you only have to prepare and mix the ingredients listed below. You don’t have to cook or heat these ingredients. Just mix them all in a bowl and add some salt to taste.

  • 1 tablespoon of sumac (or lemon pepper)
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
  • ½ tablespoon fine salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Zaatar Substitute Related FAQs

Now that you have learned the best substitutes for Za’atar, here are the frequently asked questions about the popular Middle Eastern spice.

What Does Za’atar Taste Like?

With the aromatic herbs mixed all together, Za’atar offers an herbaceous, herby, and citrusy taste. While some describe Za’atar to carry an earthy and aromatic flavor, others would confidently compare it to parmesan cheese with herby aroma.

What makes it distinct from other spices is that it has a citrusy taste that complements crusty bread, pizza dough, and pita. It’s also a great dip for fried foods.

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What do you eat Za’atar with?

Za’atar works well with bread. It enhances the taste of other ingredients such as tomatoes, mint leaves, and yogurt. With its parmesan cheese-like taste, it’s often used in Middle Eastern pizza with melted cheese like mozzarella.

Partnered with olive oil, it can be a great condiment that is passable as a vegetable salad dressing. It’s a good dip for roasted cauliflower, eggplant, and potatoes.

Many locals would use this seasoning before and after roasting meat, too. Goat cheese, bread, and Za’atar? I bet you would dig in for more of these!

Is Za’atar good for the Health?

Expect za’atar to provide several health benefits since it’s a blend of nutrient-packed herbs.

Not only does it improve your bread and roasted meats, but it is also a healthy condiment that boosts the skin cells and dissuades inflammations and infections on the skin.

Regular use of za’atar causes health-promoting effects against chronic diseases, and clears out respiratory tracts, too. If you’re obese, then Za’atar is a good addition to your diet because it levels out gut microbiota (digestive tract bacteria) and reduces oxidative stress.

Does Za’atar Expire?

It’s said that because herbs are already “dry,” these ground spices do not expire and would not harm the body when eaten. In the long run, these spices may only lose their taste, aroma, and color.

However, if you’re keeping your spices for several years, then it’s a different story. Dry and powdered spice blends that contain natural oils are still bound to go bad after 1-2 years. The aroma will not only be lost, but it can also develop a rotten smell when air-exposed for too long.

If you made a batch of Za’atar in large amounts, you can store them on the shelf and it can last three to six months. If you store Za’atar in the fridge, it can last longer for up to 8 months. 

Is Za’atar gluten-free?

A traditional and homemade Za’atar is gluten-free and MSG-free. However, most Za’atar blends that are commercially made contain ground wheat, which is a rich source of gluten. 

Some Za’atar brands you can find in the market guarantee their product as gluten-free. But to be sure, you might as well check the label and ingredients before buying. Or better yet, you can make your homemade Za’atar, adjust the recipe to your taste, or make the za’atar substitutes suggested above.