Dispatches

Forget Variety; In Jordan, Za'atar is the Spice of Life

In Jordan, the condiment to know is za’atar, a blend of herbs and spices that traditionally contains sesame, thyme, and oregano

It’s not often that most people sit down and ponder condiments, but maybe they should start. Condiments say a lot about the cultures they are ingrained in: In France, pepper was popularized because it was considered the only spice that did not overpower food. In Morocco, cumin is considered as ubiquitous as salt.

In Jordan, the condiment to know is za’atar, a blend of herbs and spices that traditionally contains sesame, thyme, and oregano. Za’atar is common throughout the Middle East, but the exact recipe varies from country to country. In Jordan, za’atar is mixed with sumac, which gives it a reddish tint and a tangier flavour.

It is unclear exactly when za’atar was invented, but it came into common use as a spice blend for food in the medieval period. Today, it is often used to flavour cooked dishes, sprinkled on pita bread dipped in olive oil, or used as a tabletop seasoning. 

Many have their own recipes for za’atar; among some this is considered a carefully guarded family secret. But whatever the variations, one thing can be agreed upon: Za’atar is an important part of Jordan’s national identity, and an exciting addition to almost any meal.

April 22, 2013, 12:31 p.m.