Za'atar (Arabic زعتر , Hebrew זעתר, Armenian զահթար) is a popular mixture of spices that originated in the Middle East. The Arabic term za'atar does not specifically mean a spice mixture, but may refer to any of various local herbs of the mint family, including marjoram, oregano and thyme. Like most English words from Semitic languages, there exist alternate spellings: zaatar, zatar, zattar or zahatar.
Green za'atar mixture is traditionally composed of dried thyme (Thymus vulgaris), toasted white sesame seeds, and salt. Some sources additionally list savory, hyssop, oregano, cumin, and fennel seed — to name a few. Red za'atar is made with dried thyme with the addition of sumac. Different versions of za'atar will differ greatly in proportions.
In Lebanon, there is a belief that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam. The mixture is also popular in Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Israel and North Africa. It is also popular within the Armenian diaspora where Middle Eastern Armenians live. It is used to spice meats and vegetables, and it is also mixed with olive oil to make a spread (za'atar-ul-zayt or zayt-tu-zaa'tar) which is used as a dip for sesame rings (ka'k). Palestinians consider za'atar as one of their staple foods. In Israel, za'atar is frequently sprinkled on hummus or served with olive oil as a spread. Za'atar can also be spread on a dough base for the Middle-Eastern equivalent of a miniature pizza, also known as the manakish. It can be sprinkled on labneh (yogurt that has been drained until it becomes a tangy, creamy cheese). It can also be preserved in oil, by mixing with salt and rolling into balls, or by drying in the sun.
The za'atar found in different countries can be different. In particular, there are differences in the Jordanian, Syrian, and Lebanese za'atar.