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.