Za’atar Substitute – 6 Effective Herbaceous And Tangy Options

You may want to sprinkle Za’atar over hummus or baba ganoush! Or mix with olive oil for a flavorful marinade. But you don’t have it? Nothing to worry about! I’ve found the solution. This article brings home to you the best za’atar substitute to use in a pinch; also little about its flavor profiles and uses in cooking.

What Is Za’atar?

Za’atar is a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend. This seasoning blend renders a zesty citrus-like tang, herbal aroma, and nuttiness.

You’ll find different varieties of this spice blend depending on where you are in the Middle East and the requirements of specific recipes.

Generally, za’atar is a combination of dried oregano (thyme/marjoram), toasted sesame seeds, and sumac.  These are commonly used ingredients in cooking and thus finding a substitute for this spice blend is not going to be difficult.

What does Za’atar taste like?

The taste of a traditional za’atar is herbal, tangy, nutty, or toasty, a mixture of complex flavors.

The taste can vary according to the ingredients; some are lemony but a few others can be salty. Dried thyme, marjoram, and oregano have a woodsy and floral taste, sumac provides a tangy and acidic flavor, and the toasted sesame seeds render a nutty flavor.

What is Za Atar used for in cooking?

Za’atar is popularly used in Middle Eastern cuisine; it’s a table spice as well as a cooking spice. This spice mixture makes a great dry rub for meats and roasted or grilled vegetables. Commonly, za’atar is mixed with olive oil and used as a marinade or as a spread for pita or flatbread. Simply sprinkle it over hummus, Labneh, or baba ganoush for an awesome taste.  This spice blend can be used in a multitude of ways; the list will be too long to enumerate them all here.

What Is A Good Substitute For Za’atar Spice Mix?

Besides Middle Eastern dishes, Za’atar seasoning is versatile enough to be used in any cuisine. If you can’t get Za’atar in your area, using a good substitute for Za’atar is a practical solution to implement. You may consider one of the alternatives listed below:

1. Homemade Blend

Traditionally, the three core ingredients in za’atar are oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds. Other ingredients in this seasoning vary in each region of the Middle East according to its use and maker’s preference.

Ingredients in a standard za’atar include:

Core Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (or sub thyme)
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Secondary Ingredients (optional):

  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Store it in an airtight container.

For making za’atar you must have the three core ingredients; also use other available ingredients according to your taste preferences.

Of the main three ingredients, sumac is scarcely available in some regions. If you don’t have sumac, use lemon pepper seasoning or lemon zest in its place.

2. Dukkah

Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that is a lot similar to za’atar. The sesame seeds and hazelnuts in this blend offer nuttiness and crunchiness like za’atar. The chief herbal ingredients in dukkah are dried mint and thyme; both are often included in za’atar blends. Like certain regional blends of za’atar, dukkah includes spices like coriander and cumin.

Obviously, dukkah contains a few extra herbal ingredients not part of an authentic za’atar. Therefore, when you use dukkah as a replacement for za’atar, adjust the spice ingredients in your recipe.

Use dukkah in the same quantity as the za’atar you use in your recipe. Usually, you’ll find dukkah in the Middle Eastern market, if not, make it your own with available ingredients.

3. Harissa

Harissa powder is the ground spice blend of the spicy, earthy North African paste with a base of smoked chili peppers. Different blends of Harissa have a few variations in herbal ingredients included in them like mint, cumin, coriander, thyme, or oregano.

In recent years, the harissa spice blend has gained a lot of popularity in the Middle East for its similarity to za’atar. Now you are in a greater chance to find them in African 0r Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Harissa is a manageable alternative to za’atar, especially in spicy dishes but be mindful of hot chili peppers in it. Start by adding harissa in small quantities to your dish till you get a flavor profile akin to za’atar.

4. Italian Seasoning

Italian seasoning and za’atar have few common ingredients like oregano, thyme, and marjoram. In fact, the fragrance and aroma of Italian seasoning are a close match to za’atar, making it an effective substitute. To your advantage, Italian seasoning is more easily available than za’atar in most grocery stores everywhere. When replacing za’atar with Italian seasoning, use it in the same quantity.

5. Shichimi Togarashi

Shichi-mi tōgarashi is a well-known Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. This spice mixture contains sesame seeds and oregano which makes it somewhat similar to za’atar. Also, the other ingredients in Shichimi can go well with a few dishes that call for za’atar. However, the chili pepper makes this mixture rather spicy. As a substitute for za’atar, use Shichimi in less quantity.

6. Mixed Herbs

In place of za’atar, try out any combinations of herbs that can recreate a similar herbaceous flavor. Here are a few possible substitution options to consider:

Sesame seeds and ground coriander: make a mixture of 1 tablespoon each ground coriander and sesame seeds with ¼ teaspoon salt.

Sesame seeds, Lemon Zest, and Herbs: Make a blend of 1 tablespoon of each sesame seed and oregano (or thyme/marjoram/coriander) and ½ teaspoon each lemon zest and salt.

Final Thoughts

Za’atar seasoning, primarily used in Middle Eastern dishes, can be substituted with various blends like a homemade mix of oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds, or alternatives such as Dukkah, Harissa, Italian seasoning, Shichimi Togarashi, or mixed herbs.

Each substitute offers unique flavors with core ingredients like sesame seeds and herbs, and adjustments like lemon zest for sumac or reduced chili in spicier mixes can be made to closely match Za’atar’s taste.

Related articles: