Is it safe to eat zaatar during pregnancy? (How to use)
In this brief guide, we will answer the question “Is it safe to eat zaatar during pregnancy?”. We also will discuss how za’atar health benefits and how it is usually consumed.
Is it safe to eat zaatar during pregnancy?
Za’atar is safe to eat during pregnancy. It is a culinary herb blend typically composed of thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac. Thyme, a key ingredient, is consumed in significant amounts as a food and is considered “generally recognized as safe.” It has shown no adverse effects on pregnancy.
This aromatic blend is commonly used as a seasoning for meat and vegetable dishes, as well as in bread preparation. Its components, characterized by a high presence of polyphenolic compounds, contribute to its strong antioxidant properties. Za’atar has gained popularity not only in Arab countries but also in various parts of the world. (1, 2)
What are the health benefits of za’atar?
Za’atar is recognized as a healthful dietary ingredient due to the rich array of bioactive compounds it contains, each offering various benefits to human health. This herb mixture contains a diverse range of polyphenols, each known for its individual positive effects. The health-enhancing properties of polyphenols depend on the quantity consumed and their absorption by the body.
Polyphenols exhibit significant physiological and biological actions even at lower concentrations, thanks to their dose-dependent effects. They promote a healthy gut through probiotic effects, act as antioxidants, help alleviate inflammation, and regulate lipid metabolism. (3)
What is za’atar composition?
Za’atar is a mixture containing leaves of O. syriacum and T. spicata, seeds of sesame, sumac – R. and coriaria fruits. Typically, Lebanese people consume daily around 10 to 20 g of Za’atar mixture accompanied by 10 to 20 g of olive oil.
Za’atar mixture contains about 6 to 12 g of leaves of Za’atar plants (O. syriacum and T. spicata), 1.2 to 2.4 g of sumac (R. coriaria blend fruits), and 2.8 to 5.6 g of sesame seeds. (3)
Does za’atar present any adverse effects for pregnancy?
While safe to consume, using oil and za’atar as condiments can hinder the absorption of dietary iron. Iron deficiency, the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide, poses a serious risk to children and pregnant women in developing regions. Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) is linked to approximately 20% of premature births, low birth weights, and maternal mortality.
The iron-inhibiting effects of za’atar can be easily mitigated by consuming it at times other than mealtimes or by increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and B-carotene to counteract the inhibitory actions of phytates and phenols.
Additionally, za’atar could be replaced by other foods that contain iron, such as hummus (made from chickpeas) and baba-ganoush (made from eggplant) condiments. These alternatives are both readily available and culturally accepted, offering additional sources of iron, even in modest servings. (4)
How za’atar is used?
In local usage, the term “za’atar” refers to specific herb blends, incorporating traditional ingredients alongside the za’atar herb itself. The flowers and leaves of za’atar are commonly consumed after they have been dried, ground, and mixed with other elements like sesame seeds, sumac berries (Rhus coriaria), and salt.
This fragrant blend is often a staple for breakfast, generously spread on a pizza-like pastry called ‘Man’ousheh’ in Arabic. It adds a burst of flavor and a delightful aroma, making it an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. Additionally, za’atar mix has found its way into French croissants as a popular filling.
For its recognized therapeutic benefits, za’atar is also brewed into herbal tea alongside other herbal ingredients, although it has a distinct sharp and bitter flavor compared to other herbal teas. Its robust and pleasant aroma can be attributed to the herb’s rich essential oil content.
Due to its affordability, appealing taste, and versatility in culinary applications, O. syriacum has become a staple herb in the Arab region. There are three main types of za’atar products: fresh za’atar, dried za’atar, and essential oil derived from the herb. (5)
In this brief guide, we answered the question “Is it safe to eat za’atar during pregnancy?”. We also discussed za’atar’s health benefits and how it is usually consumed.
In my perspective as a food scientist za’atar is a very safe food during pregnancy, its ability to inhibit iron absorption is only a concern for iron-deficient women and can be easily mitigated by incorporating foods rich in iron.
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KHAN, Mohammad Rizwan et al. Inhibitory effect of culinary herbs Za’atar (blend of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac) marinades on the formation of polar and non-polar heterocyclic amines carcinogen in fried beef patties: Determination by SPE/UPLC-MS/MS. Journal of King Saud University-Science, v. 34, n. 2, p. 101821, 2022.
TAFESH, Zaineh Q. et al. Reproductive safety assessment of Thymus vulgaris L. extract and quantification of thymol sulfate in pregnant rats and fetuses using a validated LC/MS method of analysis. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, v. 11, n. 1, p. 144-151, 2021.
KHALIL, Mohamad et al. Unraveling the beneficial effects of herbal Lebanese mixture “Za’atar”. History, studies, and properties of a potential healthy food ingredient. Journal of Functional Foods, v. 90, p. 104993, 2022.
JARRAH, Samiha S. et al. Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) perceptions and dietary iron intake among young women and pregnant women in Jordan. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, v. 18, n. 1, p. 19-27, 2007.
ALWAFA, Reem Abu; MUDALAL, Samer; MAURIELLO, Gianluigi. Origanum syriacum L.(Za’atar), from raw to go: a review. Plants, v. 10, n. 5, p. 1001, 2021.