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Zatar (Origanum syriacum), also known as Syrian oregano or bible hyssop, is an herbaceous perennial in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. A bushy herb, it grows 30-40 cm (12-16 inches) high, with oblong-ovate and slightly hairy leaves that are 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) long. It produces white flowers in spring and is very aromatic. A native of the Mediterranean, zatar is indispensable in Lebanese cuisine and is used medicinally. Some bible scholars believe zatar to be the 'hyssop' mentioned in the bible. As zatar is an Arabic word, it is translated into English with varying spellings (including za'tar, za'atar and zahtar). This common name is also used to refer to other plant species in the Laminaceae such as Satureja thymbra, Thymbra spicata and Coridothymus (Thymus) capitatus, all of which share a similar flavor profile and are used in the same ways. Zatar is the most economically important wild plant in Lebanon, where it grows wild in the mountains. As tons are harvested and consumed every year, it has recently been brought into cultivation. Used fresh or dried and crushed, zatar is a popular culinary herb and is used in the production of mankouche flatbread. A popular seasoning throughout the Middle East, zatar is transformed into the eponymous spice mix via the addition of sumac, sesame seeds and salt and pepper. Recipes vary, and a distinctly Palestinian variant replaces the sesame with caraway seeds.

(Barakat 2007; Constantino 2009; Musseman 2007; Khairallah 2010; Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.; The Plant List 2010)


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