Middle Eastern food is becoming more and more popular, with its exotic flavors and unique mixed herbs and spices! When visiting a Middle Eastern market, you may have stumbled upon za’atar spice mixture, a necessity in many dishes.
But what if you can’t find za’atar in your grocery stores or have no Middle Eastern markets nearby? Not to worry, you can still use a good zaatar substitute, which we might find in our own pantries.
Read on to learn about the different substitutes for za’atar spice mixture to achieve the taste you want in your recipe.
What is Zaatar Seasoning Made Of?
If you aren’t familiar with za’atar yet, it’s a Middle Eastern spice blend and culinary herb known as Middle Eastern thyme or hyssop. (*)
- Fun fact: The za’atar herb is wild thyme native to the eastern Mediterranean, which is now difficult to find. That’s why recipes would replace za’atar for other similar herbs, like dried oregano.
These spice blends are made of sesame seeds, dried zaatar, salt, and ground sumac, another Middle Eastern spice.
You may also find other dried herbs like parsley, thyme, or oregano replacing za’atar.
- Fun fact: Zaatar blends taste herby and lemony with some nuttiness thanks to the unique herb and spice mixture.
Learn more: The Most Common Spices and Seasoning Substitutes
Top 6 Simple Substitutes for Zaatar
If you have no za’atar, you can try any of these alternatives:
1. Ground Coriander and Sesame Seeds
Ground coriander is different from zaatar but you can still achieve the lemony, herby taste you want. It gives off interesting flavors from the Middle East, too.
We recommend using ground coriander with sesame seeds for a more accurate flavor.
- Mix one tablespoon of ground coriander with an equal amount of sesame seeds.
- Add a pinch of salt, and you’re good to go.
Fun fact: If your goal is to add more lemony, acidic flavor to your dish, we recommend trying citric acid powder. You can also try mixing sesame seeds with it.
2. Fresh or Dried Oregano
Oregano is an excellent herb and dried substitute for za’atar. While different from thyme and za atar, it has similar characteristics in terms of aroma profile and flavor base.
We recommend using this substitute for za’atar in heavy dishes, as oregano provides an element of lightness and airiness to meats. It’s also great for oily baked dishes like shakshuka or meat pies.
Another huge plus is that oregano offers various health benefits, particularly for those with yeast infections and heart diseases.
That said, don’t expect a punch of flavor from oregano like you would benefit from zaatar.
Fact: Is zaatar the same as oregano?
Oregano and zaatar are two different herbs. Both oregano and zaatar have a strong, pungent flavor that can be used to add flavor to food. However, oregano is more commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine, while zaatar is more common in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Thyme is a reduction of za’atar, which still works as an alternative. This herb is a huge part of Middle Eastern cuisine so it will taste excellently with your recipe. While the taste won’t be completely the same, thyme serves you well.
Thyme and za atar are from the same root, so they share the same scents and taste profiles. We recommend using thyme to empower heavy protein dishes for their aroma.
- Pro-tip: Add a bit of saltiness to your dish when using thyme.
Fact: Is Zaatar just thyme?
Yes, Za’atar is a type of thyme, but it also includes oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds as we said. All of these ingredients give the za’atar mix its unique flavor.
4. Schimi Togarashi
Schimi Togarashi is a Japanese spice blend that has sesame seed and orange zest. Since it comes from a whole different continent with varying ingredients, the flavor will not be the same.
That said, they still have similarities and make an interesting substitute. If you have this spice blend in your kitchen, try experimenting with it in recipes that call for dried za atar.
Fun fact: This spice blend works great with avocado or chicken!
Dukkah is a nut from Egypt and has a spice blend made from it. It’s another known element found in Mediterranean cuisine.
The spice blend is made from basic ingredients, such as nuts, coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds, making it less fussy than za atar.
You can even make your own seasoning blend by following these steps:
- Heat a handful of almonds or walnuts in a pan or skillet, stirring continuously to avoid burning.
- Add sesame seeds afterward, then toss the nuts and sesame seeds together to prevent them from sticking to your pan.
- Dump your nuts and sesame seeds into your food processor.
- Add pinches of black pepper, cumin, salt, and coriander, then begin blending until it has a sandy texture.
- Then, you’re done!
Fun fact: It’s best to pair dukkah with bread or sliced vegetables.
If you aren’t familiar with harissa yet, it’s a spicy paste originating from Tunisia in North Africa. This paste will give any recipe a kick of citrus heat.
That said, harissa and za’atar are completely different from one another. But if you want to bring Mediterranean vibes to your recipe, then harissa is still a good za’atar alternative.
You can also make your own harissa from red chili, cumin, coriander, garlic, oil, and an acid like vinegar, lemon zest, or even orange zest.
Fun fact: Harissa is more popular than za’atar, so you may easily find it in grocery stores.
Fact: Is harissa the same as Za Atar?
No, harissa is a North African chili paste while Zaatar is a Middle Eastern spice blend. However, they both contain chili peppers and other spices like cumin and coriander, so they share some similarities in flavor.
7. Homemade Za’atar
Get recipe: cookieandkate.com
Yes, you can make your own za’atar spice substitute with ingredients you most likely have at home!
There is no standard recipe for this Middle Eastern spice blend, as it depends on your preference.
You’ll find many regional variations of za’atar across the Middle East, each using its local ingredients.
Regardless of how to make za’atar, there are three major ingredients to include, which are:
- Toasted Sesame Seeds
- Pita Bread
You can also try to add other ingredients, such as dried thyme, marjoram, and rosemary, among other dried herbs, to suit your tastebuds. These are earthy herbs that do a great job of mimicking the flavors of za’atar seasoning blend
Pro-Tip: No sumac or sesame seed? No problem! You can replace sesame seeds with white or black seeds, finely-minced cashews, or peanuts, which add nuttiness and crunch. If you have no sumac, then you can use lime or lemon zest or other acidic ingredients like balsamic vinegar and pomegranate molasses.
You can also add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper for an added kick.
Make sure you use fresh ingredients and ground them yourself. That way, you get the best results and freshest flavor!
8. Buy Za’atar
We know that nothing can replace the original, though they can come close. So, if you would still like to search for za’atar, you may chance upon it in major supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets, or online stores.
What can you do with za’atar?
There are so many beautiful recipes and ways you can use the za’atar spice blend, such as:
- Mix it with olive oil or hummus to use as a dip.
- Sprinkle it across bread to bake, which is a zesty appetizer or snack known asmanakeesh bi zaatar.
- Serve this with labneh cheese, cucumber, and olives.
- Use it as a seasoning for meats, especially oven-roasted or grilled chicken.
- Toss za’atar with vegetables or roasted chickpeas.
- Mix za’atar into salad dressing.
- Combine za’atar with labneh, a soft, strained yogurt cheese.
- Sprinkle it over snacks like popcorn or pizza, a non-traditional way to use the spice blend!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you left with more questions about zaatar and its substitutes? Check out these frequently asked questions to satisfy your curiosity!
Wrapping It Up
We hope our list helped you find a good za’atar substitute that works for your recipe.
Even if it can be challenging to find za’atar, you can never go wrong with an excellent alternative to nail the flavor you’re after.