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Za’atar Substitute: 5 Simple Yet Best That You Can Use for Cooking

Love za’atar but don’t have any on hand? Are you having a hard time thinking of a possible Za’atar substitute? Well, don’t worry! Here are five simple yet best alternatives that you can use in your recipes that taste just as delicious!

5 Simple Yet Best Za’atar Substitutes That You Can Use

If you regularly cook Middle Eastern recipes, then you know how vital Za’atar is. Za’atar spice mix is an incredible plethora of spices that can enlighten your taste buds. However, you might not be able to find it in your markets. So, what to do then? Are there some Za’atar substitutes? Is there any recipe to make the spice mix at home and get the herb’s authentic taste?

Well, If questions like these revolve around your head, then keep on reading. In this article, we will discuss what Za’atar is, its ingredients, and how to substitute it while making Middle Eastern recipes. So, let’s begin.

What is Za’atar?

Za’atar is a culinary herb usually used in a spice mixture in Mediterranean and Arabic meals. It combines different herbs, sumac, salt, and sesame seeds used mainly with spice oils or any oil dish.

Traditionally, Za’atar is dried in the sun before being mixed with spices and herbs. Most people love to eat it with pita, dipped in olive oil, and then the herb. Another typical dish is Za’atar manakeesh which is made by mixing the dried herb with olive oil to make Zeit or zayt and then spreading it on a dough base. It is also used on bread, meat, vegetables, hummus, and even labneh.

What is Za’atar Made Of?

So, what is Za’atar spice mix made of? What are the key ingredients that make it so flavoursome? There are many ways to make the Za’atar spice. However, there are a few ingredients you would find in each version.

An ideal blend would include three distinctive flavours; savoriness, earthiness, and a bit of spiciness. Typically, most combinations include herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram. At the same time, the earthiness is derived from toasting coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds. Lastly, a dash of salt and chilli flakes bind the entire dish together and make a flavoursome Za’atar.

Lastly, the essential ingredient is added; sumac. It gives the blend an unexpected but equally delicious tanginess that will have you licking your fingers off after a meal.

Za’atar is relatively easy to make. Most recipes only take five minutes. First, you need to toast cumin seeds and coriander seeds separately. Toast them until they are fragrant. Then, grind them up. Lastly, mix the ingredients up and store them in an airtight container. That is it!

5 Best Za’atar Substitutes You Should Know

Luckily, there are many herbs and spices that you can use as a Za’atar substitute. While some might not give you the exact Za’atar taste, they will bring the Mediterranean vibe to your food.

 1. Harissa


The first item on our list is the delicious Harissa from Tunisia, North Africa. Though, it has a distinct taste from the blend in question. It will give your dish the zesty and citrusy heat it needs.

To make the fantastic dip, all you need are roasted red chilli, cumin, garlic, oil, coriander, and acid of your choice. Usually, people use either lime juice or vinegar. All of these ingredients are blended to make a light and smooth taste that you can use.

Although, there are some other versions of harissa, such as the rose harissa. It is made from dried rose petals and gives the food a subtle yet delicate floral taste. So, you need to make sure that you read the packaging before you purchase a can of harissa from your local store.

You can use this whenever you need a kick of the authentic Mediterranean taste in your dish. Although, since the taste is different, you need to add it gradually and keep tasting until it tastes as you want it to. Typically, the paste is added to stews, roasted vegetables, and meats. Some people also use it as a spread on bread.

2. Thyme


Thyme works like a charm as a Za’atar substitute. It is a significant component of Middle Eastern spices and gives you the signature taste each time. Although we admit it does not taste precisely like Za’atar, it does make your food delicious.

So why are we suggesting it then? Well, Thyme and Za’atar both share the same root, which means that they have similar taste and scent profiles, which makes them the next best thing. So, if you are looking for an affordable, easy-to-use, and easy-to-find substitute, you should get thyme.

However, many people make a common mistake; they do not compensate for saltiness. Thus, make sure you add it according to your taste.

3. Dukkah


Dukkah is an Egyptian nut that is a seasoning blend used for various purposes; it can be served with bread and olive oil or sprinkled over roasted vegetables. It is a popular flavour profile in Mediterranean cuisine and can be substituted for Za’atar.

You can make it using similar ingredients; nuts, coriander, sesame seeds, and cumin. Here is how you can make the seasoning at home:

  1.     Add a handful of almonds and walnuts to a skillet or a pan.
  2.     Toast them until they become fragrant.
  3.     Add sesame seeds and toast them as well.
  4.     Make sure to stir the nuts to prevent burning continuously.
  5.     After they are toasted, dump the nuts into the processor.
  6.     Add black pepper, coriander, salt, and cumin and blend.
  7.     Blend until it gets a texture of coarse sand.

Although the taste is not exactly like the original blend, it does make a good Za’atar substitute. Most commonly, Dukkah is used with bread. So, you can cut a few slices of bread, pour some olive oil into a bowl, and put the dukkah mixture in another bowl. It makes the perfect snack. Moreover, you can use it with vegetables as well. The possibilities are endless.

4. Mixed Herbs

Mixed Herbs

Herbs are an integral part of a Za’atar spice mix. Hence, if you gather its individual ingredients, then you might be able to create a blend that tastes similar to the original one. All you need for this blend is ground thyme, sesame seeds, sumac or lemon zest and citric acid, salt, and finally, black pepper. Here is a recipe we found for the mix that resembles the real one:

  1.     Take half a cup of thyme.
  2.     Toast a quarter cup of sesame seeds.
  3.     Add the thyme and toasted sesame to a bowl.
  4.     Add half a teaspoon of sea salt. If you do not have it, you can also use table salt. However, it would not have the extra kick of flavor.
  5.     Add two tablespoons of dried sumac. Although, if you do not have it, you can use lemon zest and citric acid powder in its place.
  6.     Lastly, add a pinch of black pepper.
  7.     Mix it all up, and you have a phenomenal blend.

There will be many adjustments along the way, so be ready for that. We recommend you try this recipe for the first time and then start tweaking it according to your preference and taste.

5. Oregano


Oregano has a similar base taste and aroma profile as the spice mix mentioned earlier. So, it will gladly work as its replacement. However, many chefs prefer it with heavy dishes since it adds delightful lightness and airiness to any meat.

It is also commonly used in oily baked dishes such as meat pies. You can also sprinkle it over shakshuka, an Afghani breakfast made from tomatoes, eggs, and other vegetables. Furthermore, spice also has many health benefits; it reduces the chances of yeast infections and heart diseases.

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How do you use Za’atar Substitute Seasoning?

You can use Za’atar substitute seasoning for a number of different dishes. First, however, here are two recipes that we think you must try.

Roasted Carrots

It contains only 101 calories per batch, making it the perfect snack for people on diets. In addition, it only takes you 10 minutes to prep and 30 to cook. So, you will have a delicious meal within an hour.

All you need is

  •       A pound of carrots
  •       One teaspoon of Za’atar seasoning
  •       Two tablespoons of olive oil

To make the dish, here are the steps that you need to follow:

  1.     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2.     Peel the vegetables and place them on a baking sheet.
  3.     Drizzle olive oil over the carrots
  4.     Sprinkle Za’atar season on it as well.
  5.     Roast the vegetables for at least 30 to 45 minutes.
  6.     Once tender, take them out and serve them.

Roasted Carrots

Za’atar Pita Chips

It is the perfect recipe for a game or movie night. It takes only 10 minutes to make, and you can have an average of 36 chips if you follow this exact recipe. However, people on a diet might not really like these. Although a single chip carries approximately 90 calories, it is worth a try and definitely the perfect snack for a cheat day.

The ingredients you need are as follows:

  •       Six pita bread; either plain or whole wheat
  •       One tablespoon of za’atar substitute seasoning
  •       One cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Here is what you need to do to make the delicious chips:

  1.     Preheat the oven to 375-degree Fahrenheit.
  2.     Line the baking sheet with foil.
  3.     Stack the six pita bread on a cutting board.
  4.     Cut even wedges with a sharp knife.
  5.     You need to open each wedge gently and separate them.
  6.     Spread the triangles on the sheet. Make sure to keep the textured side up.
  7.     Brush each piece with olive oil.
  8.     Sprinkle Za’atar over it.
  9.     Let it bake for five minutes until the triangles become crispy and brown.
  10.     Serve them with your favourite dip.


1. How do you use Za’atar substitute seasoning?

You can use Za’atar spice substitute seasoning in many ways. You can use it with olive oil or hummus. Also, sprinkle it over different baked items and even bread. One of the most popular ways people use it is by seasoning vegetables and different meats with it. So, you should try it with any one of these recipes.

Whether it is popcorn, labneh, or even a salad dressing, if you want the special Mediterranean and Middle Eastern deliciousness in your food, you need to add a bit of seasoning.

2. Is sumac similar to Za’atar?

No, Sumac is not similar to Za’atar. While they are related, they are two different kinds of spices. While the former is made by drying leaves of a plant called sumac, the former is a mix of other ingredients.

As a matter of fact, sumac is one of the most integral ingredients in making Za’atar seasoning. It adds a zesty and citrusy flavour to the mix. So, if a recipe asks for sumac specifically, you need to add either the spice itself or substitute it with lemon or a citrusy acid. The reason is that the recipe wants a bright and citrus flavour rather than the earthiness and spiciness of Za’atar.

3. Can you make Za’atar without sumac?

Yes, you can definitely make Za’atar without using sumac. You can add one tablespoon of dried mixed herbs with sesame seeds. Then add half a teaspoon of salt along with the zest of a single lemon. Mix it all up, and you will have a similar tanginess of the sumac from the zest.

As mentioned earlier, sumac also gives food a tanginess and a citrusy kick. So, anything that can substitute that flavour can be used in its place. For instance, citric acid is also commonly used in place of sumac for many recipes, including Za’atar. Furthermore, you can use vinegar, lemon juice, and even lemon pepper seasoning as an alternative.

Although, make sure to add them gradually to your recipes because these substitutes carry a distinctive and overpowering sour flavour compared to sumac. So, you need to use it moderately.


Za’atar or Za’atar spice mix is an essential ingredient in most Middle Eastern dishes. It gives the food a burst of flavour that you cannot get from anywhere else. However, if you finished your existing stock and cannot seem to find it in local stores, then you can use the above Za’atar substitute suggestions.

Although they are not identical to the original spice, they do have the same flavour profile. So, make sure to try them out! Just make sure to incorporate them into your recipes in small quantities because they can be overpowering and might not be needed in the same ratio as the Za’atar spice mix.