Does Za’atar Really Make you Smarter?
Growing up, our parents used to make us eat za’atar before any big exam because they believe it makes you smarter. Turns out they were on to something and we only discovered the science behind it many years later – za’atar is full of health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and essential oils that help improve memory and mood.
There is a belief that za’atar makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za’atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam or beofre school. This, however, is also believed to be a myth fabricated during the Lebanese civil war to encourage eating of za’atar, as provisions were low at the time and za’atar was in abundance.
"In Jordan alone, we sell five tons of za'tar a month," says Matouq. "It's so much a part of who we are. All our mothers used to make us eat za'tar sandwiches before exams because everyone believes za'tar makes you smarter."
Naser Matouq, Executive Manager of Al Izhiman
Researchers are really just beginning to explore what it does once it gets there. For example, a study published this May found that, when administered orally to animals, carvacrol affected levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine — which plays a key role in the brain's rewards system — and serotonin, which is important to learning and mood
Oregano and thyme essential oils are used for therapeutic, aromatic and gastronomic purposes due to their richness in active substances, like carvacrol; however, the effects of the latter on the central nervous system have been poorly investigated. Carvacrol, administered for seven consecutive days (12.5 mg/kg p.o.), was able to increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. When single doses were used (150 and 450 mg/kg p.o.), dopamine content was increased in the prefrontal cortex at both dose levels. On the contrary, a significant dopamine reduction in hippocampus of animals treated with 450 mg/kg of carvacrol was found.
The data suggest that carvacrol is a brain-active molecule that clearly influences neuronal activity through modulation of neurotransmitters. If regularly ingested in low concentrations, it might determine feelings of well-being and could possibly have positive reinforcer effects. Thyme’s essential oil, thymol has an active substance called carvacrol shown to affect neuron properties in a way that boosted subjects’ feeling of well being.
“In conclusion, these data show that an extract prepared from leaves of oregano, a major constituent of the Mediterranean diet, is brain-active, with moderate triple reuptake inhibitory activity, and exhibits positive behavioural effects in animal models. We postulate that such an extract may be effective in enhancing mental well-being in humans.” Monoamine reuptake inhibition and mood-enhancing potential of a specified oregano extract,
British Journal of Nutrition (Volume 105, Issue 8, 2011)
Looks like science has finally shown what grandma’s been saying for years. Whether you believe it to make you smarter or not we can all agree that eating more za’atar is never a bad thing!