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Za'atar is a mixture of spices with a rich Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking history. Its origins date back to ancient times, with mentions of its use found in various historical documents and texts.
Za'atar, which means "thyme" in Arabic, has been a staple in the region for centuries. Its composition can vary but typically includes thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, and toasted sesame seeds. Some variations may also have salt and other spices like cumin or coriander.
Za'atar played a significant role in the ancient world's cooking and other activities. Early Egyptian texts describe a similar herb mixture used for cooking. The Bible mentions za'atar, and scholars believe that the plant referred to as "hyssop" in the Old Testament appears in the za'atar blend.
The health benefits of za'atar were thought to exist during the Roman era and were associated with its consumption. Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, naturalist, and author, referred to za'atar as a medicinal herb and a culinary ingredient in his work "Naturalis Historia." He noted that individuals consumed it to enhance their mental sharpness and physical vitality.
For centuries, za'atar, an herb commonly found in the Middle East, has been used as a natural remedy to address various health concerns, including digestive and respiratory issues. There are numerous health benefits associated with the herb mixture. Antioxidants present in the mixture may explain some of its positive effects.
In the modern era, za'atar has become popular worldwide due to the global spread of Middle Eastern cuisine. It's commonly used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables, sprinkled on hummus, mixed into bread dough, or combined with olive oil as a dip for bread.
In addition, za'atar's a social aspect in many Middle Eastern cultures. In some parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition of having za'atar for breakfast on Sundays. It's often a communal activity, with families gathering to prepare and eat together.
Thus, the history of za'atar is a testament to the rich culinary traditions of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and it remains a staple in the cuisine of these regions today.