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Low down on Za’atar

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“Za’atar” is unrecognized and unappreciated in the American kitchen due to the fact that its ancient cultural significance is known mainly throughout Middle Eastern regions. Za’atar is a spice blend, consisting typically of dried herbs, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. It is a centuries-old mixture that dates back to the 12th century. The assortment and proportion of herbs vary from culture to culture, as well as from family to family. Additionally, there are significant regional variations of the spice. Lebanese za’atar tends to have dried orange zest, while in Jordan, za’atar is particularly heavy on sumac. Also, Israeli za’atar often incorporates dried dill. Despite the variations, za’atar always incorporates the same basic herbs that include thyme and oregano, which make up the bulk of the blend.

Ironically, za’atar does not actually contain the “real” za’atar herb. Ecologists found that wild za’atar was on the verge of extinction, and in 1977, Israel passed a law that restricted the harvest for fear that the shrub might become extinct.

You’re probably wondering how to use this wonderful spice. Well, the most common use is with some olive oil and bread. It is also commonly used on breakfast foods such as eggs and yogurt. Additionally it’s common to eat za’atar as is – out of hand, or sprinkled on popcorn.

Za’atar has developed a reputation for containing some medically beneficial properties over the centuries. Some health benefits (such as providing a brain-boost) have never been scientifically proven (at least in humans), but most benefits are backed up by scientific research. Za’atar is full of health-enhancing properties. This is because thyme, oregano and sumac (which make up the majority of za’atar) are full of flavonoids and organic compounds that are key dietary sources of antioxidants. There is also scientific speculation that za’atar can also boost mood and cognition.

Sumac has anti-fungal, anti-viral and cancer-fighting properties, as well as quercetin (which also have anti-inflammatory agents that are effective against cancer).

Thyme and oregano are rich in organic compounds that have antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. Thyme, specifically, has an abundance of additional health benefits. The antioxidants contained in thyme are powerful enough to fight off acne-causing bacteria, can help minimize respiratory cough symptoms, and can also weaken strains of diseases that cause bacteria (such as Salmonella).

If you have a passion for using uncommon herbs and spices in your cooking and wish to expand your knowledge, consider pursuing a culinary degree at Star Career Academy’s Professional Cooking Program. Star Career Academy will provide you with the necessary skills to kick-start a career in the culinary field.

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