Za’atar is extremely popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. I had never heard of Za’atar until I moved to Israel, and quite frankly the spice mixture wasn’t even on my radar until my daughter was born with a sesame allergy. That’s when I suddenly became hyper-vigilant against the spice mixture.
What is Za’atar? If you have Gil Marks The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking, I highly recommend reading his explanation about Za’atar. It’s really a fascinating description of how the herb transformed into this popular spice mix that consists of the dried herb, dried sumac, sesame seeds, salt and sometimes other spices.
For those with a sesame allergy, Za’atar spice mixture is a problem. Almost all Za’atar mixtures contain sesame seeds, and Israeli’s love to sprinkle Za’atar on top of breads, hummus and salad.
For those who suffer from a sesame allergy, it’s really important to ask about Za’atar on your bread, hummus or salads. I’ve even heard of some restaurants sprinkling their shakshuka with Za’atar. Hotels are also very fond of using Za’atar, I’ve seen Za’atar sprinkled over cheese at hotel buffets.
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to avoid food items with Za’atar, it’s just something people with sesame allergies need to be aware of, and should ask.
Today is the perfect day to launch my new blog, as it’s currently food allergy awareness week. In 2012, I wrote a blog post in The Times of Israel titled: Israeli’s Lax Attitude Towards Food Allergies, which basically expressed my frustration with my then 18 month old’s food allergies and how some of the parents in her gan continued to send in food that she couldn’t eat, for gan parties and as a Friday pre-Shabbat treat.
Since that blog post was published, I have received frequent emails from concerned parents eager to send their children to Israel, but worried about their food allergies. At first, I had no idea how people even found me. But, after a quick Google search for the keyword phrase: “food allergies in israel.” I discovered that my blog post was the third search result.
I’ve spent hours emailing people who have asked the numerous questions pertaining to living with food allergies in Israel.
For example, one concerned Mom wanted to know if I had any suggestions for:
- Where she could purchase some things that would be nut free- snacks or even meals that she could arrange to get delivered to the group
- Any suggestions for nut-free Israeli products they could purchase for her daughter
- A chef who is sensitive to food allergies who they could engage to cook some meals for her.
Another concerned Mom, whose daughter had a severe sesame allergy, wanted to know:
- If restaurants use sesame oil much when they cook
- Will it be difficult for her to find things to eat without worrying about sesame
I answered these emails as best as I could and thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where I could get these answers? A website, in English, that contained information including:
- List of local food items and their ingredients. For example, tahini is a sesame based product that is found in most store and restaurant prepared hummus.
- Restaurant information such as allergy friendly or not friendly. For example, chain restaurant Japanika is NOT nut friendly. There are peanuts in a number of their dishes.
- Package brands and food items that are safe to consume depending on allergy.
- A directory of Chef’s and cooks who can prepare food in a safe, sterile kitchen that can deliver based on location.
- Q&A’s with other food allergy Mom’s currently living in Israel, and how they manage day to day
I have three children with food allergies, and a lot of this blog will be a first person account as I educate myself regarding their allergies, and some of the steps we are taking to feed our children safely.
I’m also hoping this blog will be collaborative with many of my friends and fellow Mommy’s of kids with food allergies who live in Israel.
Feel free to comment in the section or post any questions!