The cuisine in this country is undoubtedly great, but when you hear something like za'atar seasoning blend. You know you're in for a treat!
Za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend. While you may occasionally find some on market shelves, authentic ones are hard to come by.
So, what happens when that insatiable hunger for the perfect mix of spice and savory hits you out of nowhere?
Well, you use replacements, of course! Don't worry. I know the best zaatar substitute to tame that beast.
What's Za'atar Seasoning and Where to Use It?
Aside from the richness of its flavor profile, za'atar seasoning is also rich in cultural heritage. Luckily for us, it found its way overseas.
If you're unfamiliar with this spice blend, here's where it comes from and the best foods to pair it with.
What It's Made Out Of
The recipe for making za'atar seasoning blend varies from one region to another, but generally, it's made out of several dried mixed herbs.
This includes toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, and sumac (the most important of them all).
Where to Use It
You can use za'atar seasoning on various meat dishes and snacks. You'd likely find them paired with hummus, labneh (a creamy and cheesy yogurt), and baba ganoush.
However, its most famous partner is fresh pita bread. If you drizzle pita bread with za'atar mixed with olive oil, you'd understand why this spice blend is so popular.
You can actually make your own za'atar seasoning if you have all the ingredients. However, it's relatively difficult to find sumac berries even in most middle eastern markets in the country.
Luckily, you can use substitutes to get closer to that za'atar taste.
Best Za'atar Substitutes
Even though za'atar blends are hard to come by, you can replace the flavor they add to your food with various ingredients and mixes.
Here are some of the best za'atar substitutes to achieve that middle eastern cuisine.
Dukkah originated in Egypt, so the rich middle eastern culture is also present in this spice blend. It's made from different seeds, nuts, and spices.
While there is a subtle hint of a nutty taste, the strongest feature of this blend is its crunchy texture (similar to that of za'atar seasoning).
Dukkah usually includes cumin, coriander, almonds, sesame seeds, and hazelnuts.
Best for pita bread, hummus dips, and hard-boiled eggs.
2. Italian Seasoning
Italian seasoning is a broad term that describes a blend of various dried herbs.
While this blend is more popular with Mediterranean cuisines, you'd still find them in middle eastern food.
Italian seasoning includes dried oregano, dried or wild thyme, basil, rosemary, and sage. Although not always, some may include garlic powder and parsley for a more earthy flavor.
It's probably the closest thing to za'atar you can find, and it's widely available in grocery stores, making it a convenient substitute.
Best for Mediterranean food like pasta sauce and salad dressing but also works great for grilled meats.
Check out this Homemade Italian Seasoning Recipe on our site if you want to make one.
3. Ground Coriander
Most spice blends include sumac, cumin, and coriander seeds. That's why ground coriander and za'atar seasoning are very much alike.
The main difference between the two is the crunchiness (or the absence of it) since ground coriander is finer than za'atar.
Nonetheless, ground coriander is an excellent za'atar substitute because it's more affordable and accessible.
If you want, throw some toasted sesame seeds in there to get closer to the real thing!
Best for baked goods and sauces where you want a stronger flavor profile with a hint of spice. It also works well with amaretto coffee and certain cocktails.
You can also use ground coriander to make mild curry powder as substitute for adobo seasoning.
4. Shichimi Togarashi
Shichimi togarashi is another flavor- and culture-rich spice blend originating from Japan during the Edo period.
Nonetheless, this spice blend is also popular in Indian cuisine, which shares several similarities with middle eastern dishes.
It contains chili peppers, salt, sugar, sesame seeds, and a fermented red pepper paste known as kosho.
This is the best za'atar substitute if you like spice blends that are a little hot on the taste buds.
Best for Japanese noodles, tempura, rice, and vegetables. You can also use this to season meat and add spice to your dish.
5. Mixed Herbs
Sumac and oregano are perhaps the hardest ingredients to find if you want to make your own za'atar seasoning.
The most important attribute you want from sumac is its citrus tang. So, if you're in a pinch, you can simply use various dried herbs sprinkled with lemon zest to your spice mix.
Aside from the lemon juice replacing sumac, combining basil, thyme, and dried marjoram will also help achieve the flavor profile you want from the other za'atar ingredients.
Best for just about anything from pasta to sauces to desserts and drinks.
6. Harissa Spice Blend
We've already got middle eastern, Mediterranean, and Asian spice blends. Now, we got one from North Africa.
Like shichimi togarashi, the harissa spice blend is a great za'atar substitute if you like spicy foods.
It includes garlic powder, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and several types of chilies. This is perhaps the spiciest blend on this list.
Try a pinch on your food first to gauge where it stands on your spice meter.
Best for meat marinades, sauces, and rubs.
If you're trying to make harissa spice blend at home, here are some substitutes you can use.
Thyme is probably the European and northern African counterpart of oregano and za'atar. You can use it as it is to spice up your dishes.
On the other hand, you can also use lemon zest to get the tanginess of za'atar. You will most likely find fresh or dried thyme in the supermarket.
Its accessibility makes it a great substitute for za'atar (on top of its aroma and taste, of course).
Best for seasoning or marinating turkey, lamb, or chicken.
Check out this Air Fryer Turkey Breast Recipe on our site and use thyme instead of rosemary.
8. Homemade Za'atar (DIY)
If you really want that za'atar taste and will not settle for any substitute, just make your za'atar seasoning at home!
Yes, sumac berries can be difficult to find, but you can replace that with sumac powder. This is widely available in supermarkets, or you can also order online.
Combine that with salt, dried oregano, sesame seeds, thyme, and pepper flakes, which are relatively easy to find.
It's the closest thing you could get to the za'atar seasoning from the Middle East.
Tips When Using Zaatar Spice Substitutes
All the substitutes above will work well with common recipes that use za'atar seasoning. However, some will work better than others, depending on how you use them and what you're preparing.
To guide you through that, here are some valuable tips to help you use za'atar substitutes effectively.
Consider how it affects your dish.
Before you choose a za'atar substitute, think carefully about the dish you're making. While the substitutes above resemble za'atar, they also contribute other flavors to your dish.
Therefore, it's best to choose za'atar substitutes that will blend with the overall flavor profile of your recipe.
Think about your other spices and ingredients.
It's always good practice to determine how one spice affects another ingredient. Hint: Some ingredients just don't mix!
For example, ground coriander as it is will taste very similar to za'atar seasoning. However, mixing it with nutmeg, anise, cinnamon, and thyme will cause the flavors to clash.
Have a pinch before seasoning.
Having a pinch of any za'atar substitute will help you gauge how much you need to add to your dish. It's not always a 1:1 ratio.
For instance, thyme is a really strong herb. If you add too much of it, you might end up with a pungent seasoning that ruins the dish's overall flavor profile.
Zaatar Substitute FAQs
Ground coriander, thyme, and Italian seasoning are perhaps the most accessible substitutes for za'atar.
If you want spicier substitutes, look for harissa spice blends and shichimi togarashi.
Za'atar has a strong earthy flavor with hints of nuts and tangy undertones. The herbs empower the flavor profile of your dish while the seeds add sweetness.
Despite being a "spice" blend, za'atar isn't actually spicy, or at least not as spicy as other blends because of the absence of pepper and other chilies. Its "spice" mainly comes from herbs.
Finding the Perfect Zaatar Substitute
It's uncommon to find za'atar seasoning blend outside of the Middle East, but this doesn't mean we can't enjoy middle eastern taste here in the West.
Fortunately, several za'atar substitutes are widely available on the market, and you can even make your own at home.If you want to learn more about the best substitutes for ingredients from various countries, feel free to visit Also The Crumbs, Please.
Homemade Za'atar Substitute
- Mix everything in a small bowl and adjust the portion of each ingredient according to your preferred taste.
- Store in an airtight container.
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