Regional Variations of Za’atar

Regional Variations of Za'atar

Since za’atar is used over a large region where the language and recipes vary, there is no universal agreement on what za’atar should have in it or even how it should be spelled. Since the transliteration of the Arabic word for za’atar contains a phoneme that doesn't even exist in English, the spelling can differ greatly: zaatar, zahatar, satar, zahtar, zatar, za'atar (the most similar to Arabic), and many more.  

In much of the Middle East, za'atar recipes are closely guarded secrets, and there are also substantial regional variations.Unsurprisingly, these variations are a matter of extreme national pride. There are some standards: the most common herbs are thyme and oregano, and they make up the bulk of the blend. Marjoram, mint, sage, or savory are also common.

The majority of the flavor however should generally be contributed by the main active wild thyme ingredient. Some Zaatar mixture varieties may contain one or more of the following fillings and spices: ground wheat, ground peanut, ground chickpeas, ground peas, ground cumin, ground fennel, ground coriander, ground caraway, ground anise seed, ground roasted melon seed kernel, ground roasted watermelon seed kernel, ground roasted hazelnut, dried pomegranate seed, and others.

This secrecy around za’atar recipes is one of the reasons for the difficulties in determining the names of the different spices used. In some areas, za'atar is often called "doqa", in reference to the dried za'atar leaves traditionally being "pounded" in its preparation.

Za'atar, both the herb and the condiment, is popular in Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.