Za’atar is a spice blend typically made with dried oregano, marjoram, sumac, thyme, and toasted sesame seeds. These components give the dish a wide spectrum of flavors — from creamy and floral to tangy and nutty.
Za’atar is commonly used as a rub to roast meat and veggies, or mixed with goat cheese and served with pita chips and crackers. Safe to say, this versatile spice blend is a must-have ingredient. But if you run out of it, you can still make do with these za’atar substitutes!
Dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend, has a warm, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture, but the consistency varies depending on the nuts and spices used in the blend. It can, however, be used as a substitute for za’atar because it contains herbs and seeds that are commonly found in many za’atar blends.
When using it as a substitute, keep in mind that dukkah’s flavor is brightened by fresh, citrusy notes from coriander and cumin, which may not work in all recipes. So, only use it in recipes where it will complement the other ingredients, and modify the amount of spices and herbs used in the dish to achieve a similar flavor profile.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1 teaspoon dukkah.
Harissa is a popular spice blend from North Africa and the Middle East. Made with smoked chili peppers, garlic, mint, cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds, it can pack some heat. Harissa comes in paste or powder form and has smokey, sharp, and tangy flavors. While this blend adds a different flavor to dishes compared to za’atar, it can still work as a good alternative.
Harissa can be found in Middle Eastern markets or the ethnic department of most supermarkets. When using it as a substitute, keep in mind that it contains chili peppers, which can make meals spicy, so start with a tiny amount and adjust to taste to avoid overpowering the delicate flavors of the dish.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1/2 teaspoon harissa powder/harissa paste. (Add more after tasting.)
3. Ground Coriander and Sesame Seeds
Ground coriander has a subtle sweetness and a hint of earthiness to it, which is completely different from the herby and exotic za’atar. However, it does have some lemony, herby flavors that are very similar to the real thing, so it can work as a great stand-in for za’atar in an emergency.
When using ground coriander as a substitute, keep in mind that it will bring some interesting flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine to your dish. So, if you want to keep the recipe’s flavor profile closer to the original, add some sesame seeds and salt to the mix. They’ll add a nice crunch and nuttiness to the dish for a more flavor profile that’s closer to za’atar.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1 teaspoon of mix containing ground coriander and sesame seeds in equal parts and 1/4 part salt.
4. Mixed Herbs
Zaatar has a base full of herbs, so if you have some earthy herbs at home, you should be able to make your own za’atar seasoning. A combination of aromatic herbs can offer similar aromas and many of the same herbaceous flavor notes as za’atar. The blend will also do a wonderful job of imitating the flavor of the premixed za’atar blend.
You can use dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary along with sesame seeds or finely-minced cashews to add some crunch and a hint of nuttiness to the blend. And if you don’t have sumac (an important component in za’atar) on hand, you can use lemon or lime zest to add a vibrant and bright flavor to the dish.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1 teaspoon of a mixture consisting of 1 tablespoon each of dry herbs and sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of fine salt, and the zest of a lemon.
Note: You can adjust the ratio of ingredients to suit your taste preferences.
5. Fresh or Dried Oregano
Oregano is a warm, peppery herb that is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. While it differs from za’atar as a whole, they share the same base taste and aroma and should thus perform well as its substitute.
Fresh or dried oregano can be substituted in place of za’atar in heavy dishes, and it’s especially good in oily baked dishes like meat pies and shakshuka where its subtle flavor profile can really elevate the recipe’s overall taste. Keep in mind that it won’t pack the same flavor punch as za’atar, therefore it shouldn’t be used in dishes that require the flavor of zaatar to shine.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1 teaspoon of oregano. (Add more if needed.)
6. Shichimi Togarashi
Shichimi Togarashi is a Japanese spice blend made from 7 ingredients, including red chili pepper and sansho pepper. As it comes from a whole different continent and contains a different set of ingredients that give it a spicy and citrusy taste, this spice blend will very likely change the overall profile of your dish when used as a substitute for za’atar.
While Shichimi Togarashi is notably different from za’atar, it does share some similarities. While we don’t recommend using it in recipes, it can be used to enhance the flavor of avocado and chicken. You can also use Shichimi Togarashi in meals that call for dried zaatar. Just taste as you go to avoid overpowering the delicate flavors of the dish.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1/2 teaspoon of Shichimi Togarashi.
7. Make Your Own
Za’atar is made using a variety of ingredients that can differ across brands, making it difficult to replicate accurately. However, the major flavors in this blend are oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds, and the rest of the ingredients can be customized based on what you have on hand.
Here’s how you can use your own za’atar blend.
To make, use:
• 1/4 cup sumac
• 1 tablespoon marjoram
• 1 tablespoon oregano
• 1 tablespoon roasted ground coriander
• 1 tablespoon roasted ground cumin
• 2 tablespoon thyme
• 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds.
Here is a link to the recipe you can use for inspiration.
Use this blend as you would use premixed za’atar in your dishes to achieve a similar flavor profile, and use lemon pepper seasoning (optional) to give your homemade za’atar a touch of authenticity.
1 teaspoon of premixed za’atar blend = 1 teaspoon homemade za’atar blend.