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Za’atar: How to make the Levantine spice mix yourself

Thyme is called “za’atar” in Arabic. Marjoram sometimes too. Oh yes, oregano too. Even though these lovely herbs have their own names, sometimes people say za’atar to just the three of them. Crazy, right? “Go buy some za’atar!” – Uh…. okay. It’s best to just bring the Za’at ar spice blend – everyone from the Levant goes for it anyway. I’ll be happy to explain further what Za’atar is and how you can make this great Levant spice blend yourself.

What is Za’atar, anyway?

Za’atar is a spice mixture from the Levant, i.e. the Middle East. Especially in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine, the spice mixture is a very fixed part of the kitchen. For me, the scent of this spice blend is THE scent of the lavente!

Za’atar consists of:

  • Thyme
  • Sumac
  • Sesame
  • Salt

You may have a few question marks in your head now after reading the word “sumac.” We’ll get to that in a minute. First of all, I have to talk about the thyme.

Wild thyme or hyssop?

As you probably already know, there are different types of thyme. For the Za’atar spice mix, the wild thyme (Origanum syriacum) is used in the Levant. It is much more heat resistant than regular thyme and has a much more intense flavor that can even be slightly peppery. My mother also likes to put the wild thyme in oil and then use it in salads, for example.

Wild thyme is sometimes called biblical hyssop or Syrian oregano. Here it then often comes to confusion: True hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is actually a completely different plant species and so has nothing to do with the thyme we know. So when you hear about hyssop in connection with za’atar, it is wild thyme. Since wild thyme is not available everywhere, you can also use regular thyme from the supermarket.

Depending on taste and region, there are slightly varying recipes for za’atar in the Levant. There are mixtures that contain thyme, oregano AND marjoram. Some even have cumin sneaked in, which is very atypical – It really doesn’t have to be, I think. I prefer the minimalist mix – sesame seeds, thyme, salt and sumac. Wait a minute… Sumac?


Sumac (Rhus coriaria) is a spice obtained from the red fruits of the spice sumac (vinegar tree). Coarsely ground, the purple powder is sprinkled over salads and used in dips or to make (barbecue) marinades. Learn more about sumac here.

The purple powder smells very slightly of vinegar and has a strong sour-tart flavor. All together in a spice pot, Za’atar tastes deliciously nutty through the toasted sesame, while sumac conjures up a nice freshness; and the thyme – that is the top and heart note of the whole.

What is Za’atar used for?

And what can I use this Za’atar for?
Try Manakish. These are delicious dough patties that are coated with a mixture of za’atar, onions and olive oil and briefly go into the oven. The smell that comes out of your oven is beguiling!

You can also simply serve the mixture next to a good olive oil and fresh bread. Dip the bread first in the oil and then in the delicious spice mixture. Especially known and popular is the use with Labneh, the Levantine fresh cheese made from yogurt. This is simply drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar. Then simply pass the pita bread or a piece of baguette through there and you have one of the most famous bites of the Levant.

Za’atar also fits very well:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs (boiled or fried – does not matter)
  • Salad
  • Marinades

Better to buy or do it yourself?

You can now buy za’atar in well-stocked supermarkets, in the oriental market or online. If I do not want to make the spice mixture myself, I like to use products that I buy online, because they are often more authentic than the recipe in the supermarket. When buying, make sure that the wild thyme is used and no other ingredients, such as cumin or something are included.

Za’atar you can also make yourself easily, quickly and cheaply. You can find my recipe right here below in the recipe card.

If you have made Za’atar yourself, you can simply put the spice mixture in a clean and dry jar and seal it well. The whole thing will then keep for a good 6 months. Of course, you can still use it after that, but the sesame seeds might not taste as fresh anymore. But you will probably have used up your za’atar by then anyway. Have fun and enjoy your meal!

Recipe for Za’atar spice mixture

Zaatar Za'atar
Print Recipe Rezept speichern
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 1 Small bowl
Calories 12


  • 3 TBSP Thyme rubbed
  • 1,5 El Sesame
  • 2,5 TL Sumac
  • 1/2 TSP Salt


  • Toast the sesame seeds without oil in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring.
  • Place half of the sesame seeds in a mortar with the salt, sumac and thyme and lightly pound.
  • Add the remaining sesame seeds and mix.


Recipe contains affiliate links. 


Calories: 12kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 0.4g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Sodium: 194mg | Potassium: 25mg | Fiber: 1g | Vitamin A: 143IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 1mg

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