Health Benefits of Za’atar
BY AMMARA ISA
Za’atar consists of a warm blend of oregano, thyme and fennel mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt. The recipe for this combination varies across the region, with each country having its own distinct taste. A Lebanese version includes the deep red sumac spice whilst the Palestinian variety uses aromatic caraway seeds for a more fragrant mix.
The origin of the spice mix is contested but za’atar has been consistently used as a staple in Arabic cuisine diet since medieval times. A notable mention of za’atar throughout history has been the great 12th-century Spanish philosopher Maimonides; recommending za’atar to cure colds and other minor ailments. Since Maimonides, housewives through the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East traditionally have made za’atar as it is primarily used in cooking to accompany flat breads, olive oil or cheese.
Yet, its culinary enhancing properties are not the only benefits of the za’atar. It is well known in alternative medicine as ‘brain food’. Each individual spice carries a wealth of benefits that, in combination, provide your body with a much-needed boost of health.
Thyme is a well-known spice that has been proved to lower blood pressure making it easier on the heart. Lower blood pressure means the heart does not need to work as hard to pump blood, which in turn relieves stress on one of the most important organs of your body. Being one of the base spices, thymes place in za’atar is well earned as a heart-healthy ingredient.
The inclusion of sesame seeds contains calcium, which can reduce blood cholesterol levels. It is also a good source for minerals such as copper, magnesium and zinc, all vital for total body health. Copper is essential for the body’s inflammatory systems, magnesium for respiratory health and zinc for bone health.
As well as being a rich antioxidant, oregano is a great source of Vitamin K which helps protect your cardiovascular system. Oregano is a rich natural source of this vitamin and its presence in any za’atar recipe means consuming za’atar on a regular basis ensures you get your body’s daily recommendation.
Similarly to its fellow spices, fennel contains its own unique antioxidant properties. It contains potassium, which have been found to naturally decrease blood pressure. It also contains vitamin B-6, which helps the body break down food into smaller components making it easier to digest.
With all its health benefits, is it no wonder that recipes for za’atar have stood the test of time.
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