Middle eastern and arabic ingredients

Here I will be sharing pictures and a little info about arabic and middle eastern ingredients I use in my recipes along with a few tips on what to look for when selecting these ingredients. This page was suggested by one of my wonderful readers, Robin, thank you for the great suggestion.

I will be adding ingredients gradually to this page and hopefully it will be soon be a complete visual index of all the ingredients unique to the arabic and middle eastern cuisine


sumac @chef in disguise

Sumac (Soo-mak) is a spice that comes from the berries of the Rhus shrubs. The berries are dried and then ground to give a purplish deep red powder that is sour, slightly fruity and astringent. It is used in the middle eastern cuisine to add a sour, lemony taste to chicken, salads and salad dressings. It is also used as a garnish for different dips and salads.

Season: available year-round

How to select: Found in Middle Eastern markets ground or dried.The color may range from deep purple to reddish purple.

Substitutions: lemon zest plus salt OR (in salads) lemon juice OR (in salads) vinegar

What is mastic?


Mastic is a resin obtained from the mastic tree. It is called “arabic gum” (not to be confused with gum arabic) and “Yemen gum”. In Greece, it is known as the “tears of Chios” . like other natural resins, mastic is produced in “tears” or droplets. Originally liquid, it is sun dried into drops of hard brittle translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum.

How to select: Mastic is usually sold in middle eastern and greek stores. It looks like little golden opaque crystals and is usually sold in little bottles. Go for the Mastic that looks like littel golden droplets as opposed to the mastic that looks like broken glass.

One of the earliest uses of mastic was as chewing gum; hence, the name. Mastic-flavored chewing gum is still sold in many middle eastern countries.Mastic is used in ice cream, puddings and  milk based desserts and drinks and it is key in giving Nabulsi cheese its unique flavor. It is also commonly added to baked goods such as maamoul.



Mahlab or mahlepi is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the St Lucie Cherry. The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction, but ground to a powder before use. The flavour is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry.

Mahlab kernels are light brown in color and they resemble small almonds in shape.

How to select: You can find Mahlab in arabic and greek stores, usually sold in small bottles

Zaatar (oregano)


Zaatar زعتر in arabic is a word that stand for both the herb oregano and the spice mix made with dried oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, salt and ground caraway seeds.

Zaatar the herb is used in salads, flat bread, pastry and hot winter drinks. Zaatar the spice mix is commonly eaten with pita, which is dipped in olive oil and then za’atar. It can also be mixed with olive oil to form a paste,this mixture is then spread on a dough base and baked as a bread, produces manakeesh bi zaatar (flat bread topped with zaatar). Za’atar can also be used as a spice rub for meat and chicken

What is cardamom?

spices @ chef in disguise

Bottom to top: Cardamom, Nutmeg, Cinnamon

Cardamom is one of the world’s very ancient spices. Cardamom has a strong, unique spicy-sweet taste, which is slightly aromatic. The small, brown-black sticky cardamom seeds are contained in a pod in three double rows with about six seeds in each row. The pods are between 5-20 mm (1/4”-3/4”) long, the larger variety known as ‘black’, being brown and the smaller being green. White-bleached pods are also available.Cardamom is more expensive than average spices but a little goes a long way. Cardamom is used  in rice dishes. It adds a unique flavor to desserts such as cakes (it pairs beautifully with cinnamon) and cookies. It give Arabic and Turkish coffee its characteristic flavor. Try adding a little to your favorite dough recipe and you will be amazed at how a little spice can transform your baked goods

How to select: Purchase in the pod or ground, usually found in middle eastern or indian shops.  It is best to buy cardamom still in the pods, which are removed and discarded. You can also buy cardamom seeds however; they lose much of their flavor. Ground cardamom has even less flavor than the fresher ones

How to prepare: Grinding the pod yourself will result in a fresher, stronger representation of the spice.

 What is freekeh?

Freekeh (pronounced free-ka) has been recently labeled “super food”.It has been popular in the arabic cuisine for centuries.Mainly in the Levantine area and north-east africa. It is used to make soups, pilaf,salads and even to make the stuffing for chicken and poultry.

Freekeh is roasted green wheat. The grains are harvested while still soft, young and green, then parched, roasted and dried. The process captures and more importantly retains the grains at the state of peak taste and nutrition. Green grains are very different in properties to mature grains. The entire process is natural and only uses fire and air. Freekeh is higher in protein compared to couscous and appreciably higher compared to white rice. It compares well to other healthy grains such as quinoa and farro. Freekeh has at least four times as much fibre as some other comparable grains, and consists mostly of insoluble fibre. It also has a low glycemic index.

How to select:You can by freekeh in three sizes rough, medium and fine. Fine freekeh works best for soups. The medium and rough cut freekeh is what you ‘ll need to make pilafs, salads and stuffing

How to prepare: You can make freekeh into pilafs or use it as a stuffing for chicken, you can also use it in salads the same way you would use couscous or quinoa

Matches well with: chicken, coffee, curries, duck, lentils, meat, oranges, peas, rice, squash

Leave a comment


  1. Very informative…waiting for more additions.

    • Rima

       /  July 20, 2013

      كلمة شكراً بالحقيقة هي جداً قليلة .. سلمت يداك وادامك الله ووهبك الصحة والعافية على هذا الموقع الأكثر من رائع

  2. Brilliant idea, go on, pls tell us about somaq سماق

  3. GREAT idea Sawsan! Glad you included mahlab – that was on my list. Where possible, it could be good to have a suggested replacement, if unavailable. Sorry to add to your task!
    Lovely photos, as always.
    PS. I’ve been making and bottling za’atar all weekend for the kid’s teachers, as Christmas gifts. So much fun! Our home is currently like a mini spice factory.

  4. Robin Pack

     /  December 5, 2012

    I so love this new addition. I have so much fun trying new things, toasting, grinding my own spices, mixing them into spice mixtures and learning about new (to me) cooking techniques/ingredients/flavor profiles & combinations. Would love it if you could touch on best way to incorprate saffron threads. I’ve seen many different variations of how to infuse the flavor. Much heartfelt gratitude from me to you!

  5. hello

     /  April 4, 2013

    Been wondering what a substitute for Sumac would be. Glad to have stumbled upon your blog! Great recipes & photos!

  6. Sawsan, I am so excited to have found your blog via Barb at Profiteroles and Ponytails!! I am absolutely in love with Middle Eastern food and your blog is such a wonderful, easy-to-read resource about the key techniques, flavours and dishes! I love this post – I already use about half of the ingredients but you’ve rounded out my knowledge in terms of substitutions and origins etc. Thanks for all of the wonderful information you’re sharing with us. So happy to follow you!

  7. So happy I found your blog! I love Middle Eastern food! I use sumac on my scrambled eggs and found mahlep in my local persian store. Penzey’s Spices also carries mahlep – lucky for me they have a store nearby!

  8. i hope some info about saffron, rosewater etc……
    i just familiar with some of your prescribe….
    i’m serching all over for sumac but still never had seen that once here in Indonesia…

  9. Thana Alusi

     /  June 2, 2013

    This is a womnderful website I just came across it and will start using those wonderful recipies, Thank you.
    One note, Zaater is “Thyme” and Not “Oregano” as you listed on your Website and wanted to confirm with you and other readers. It is normally made with the main ingreedient “Thyme” mixed with different other spices based on country of origin (Jorda, Lebnon, Syria, Shami, baalladi…etc). I do not think Oregano will give the same flavor!

    Keep up the good work, and thank you

    • Thank you kindly Thana for your comment and for stopping by my blog
      Regarding your note, zaatar is not thyme. Thyme has much smaller thinner leaves and it tastes and smells differently.
      The herb you see in my picture is oregano, this particular kind is known as Lebanese or Syrian oregano and it is what we use to make zaatar. Try googling “oregano and thyme ” then check the images and you will see pictures of them side by side. The one I use is oregano.

  10. Anonymous

     /  June 27, 2013

    I am a pakistani can you please tell me what ingredients are included in all spices.your recipes are awesome

  11. aiysha

     /  June 27, 2013

    Can you please tell me what ingredients are included in all spices . Your recipes are awesome

    • Hello Aiysha,
      All spice is not a spice blend, it is a type of dries spice berries commonly used in the middle east. I will picture it for you and add it to the list

  12. aiysha

     /  July 1, 2013

    Can you please post some more of arabic sweets …my husband loves them….thanks in advance

  13. I am a new blogger from Jordan blogging about Middle Eastern and Jordanian cuisine :) and I just discovered your amazing blog YAYYY!

    • A pleasure to meet a fellow Jordanian blogger :)
      Heading over to your blog

      • Anonymous

         /  July 21, 2013

        أخت سوسن بدي أسالك عن الجبنة لما بدي حط المنفحة لازم على درجة حرارة معينة ؟؟ وشو اسم كلورايد الصوديوم بالعربي وكيف اشرح للبياع ؟؟ أنا عملت التوفو وعملت كذا نوع بس بدي اعمل طريقتك بالمشللة بس اكتشفت انه كل ٥ كغ حليب عم يعملي ١ كغ جبنة صح ولا كلورايد الصوديوم عم يعطيه كثافة ؟؟ أنا المنفحة عندي طبيعية وحافظتها بالفريزر . شكراً الله يقويكي

      • اهلا فيكي
        لما تحطي المنفحه لازم حراره الحليب تكون 32 و كلوريد الصوديوم بالعربي اسمه ملح.بتقدري تستعملي الملح العادي تبع الاكل.
        بالنسبه للكميه..حليب البقر ممكن كل 5-7 كيلو حليب يعطيكي 1 كيلو حليب. اما حليب الغنم البيضا بيعطيكي كميه جبنه اكثر بكتير

  14. Anonymous

     /  July 21, 2013

    طريقة شرحك بتفش القلب :))) الله يسعدك ، الحليب المتاح عندي حليب جاموس ودسم كتيييير يعني من ١ كغ حليب بطالع ٢٠٠ غ قشطة بيمشي الحال اعمل منه المشللة والباقي ، وعندي كتاب للاجبان فرنساوي رح شوف كيف فيني ابعتلك ياه فيه أجبان معتقة ودوبل كريم …الخ

    • الله يخليكي يا رب
      .. ما دام حليب دسم و بتحصلي عليه طازج و بدون بستره المفروض بينفع تعملي جبنه مشلله منه
      انا ما جربت لانه هاد الصنف غير متوفر في الاردن

  15. shurooq

     /  July 29, 2013

    assalm o alaikum, please post the all spice ingredients that you used in making shawarma, and if you could post any other middle eastern all spice recipe as well, it would be great. are all spice berries also a part of the mix/? looking forward to ur reply

    • Hello Shurooq
      The all spice I mention in all my recipes are all spice berries ground up. It is not a spice mix, just the all spice berries ground into powder

  16. Nagmana

     /  August 8, 2013

    جزاك اللهُ خيراً
    Sister for information learning some new ingredients .i want to know what is chia seeds

  17. this was enlightening. have had sumac and most of the rest. wish we got freekeh here, sounds like an interesting grain to play with

  18. sally

     /  September 20, 2013

    Will, the best , I have been looking for the White cheese recipe everywhere , then I found YOU :-) I only have one question ! would it really work to cook the cheese with pasteurized milk from Wallmart!

  19. Ahmed Othman - UK

     /  September 30, 2013

    I was very please to discover this website for the ARABIC FOOD. Fantastic, I will always watch this now and try form time to time make somthing. I just know the basic food. But this is beyond expectations. Thank you very much for sharing your food with us. I have been so hungry for years and nothing will satesfay my tast.

  20. Anonymous

     /  October 23, 2013

    This is such a great blog!

  21. God bless you, eternally grateful to have found your blog, it is wonderful, greetings from, (Central America)

  22. Anonymous

     /  November 30, 2013

    السلام عليكم..بحييك على صفحتك الاكثر من رائعة وتسلم الأيادي بس انا تعبت من ترجمة الوصفات وخصوصا المعمول اللي بيدوب في الفم فهل يوجد طريقة لترجمة الصفحة وشكرا جزيلا

    • وعليكم السلام
      شكرا جزيلا على كلامك اللطيف و انا اسفه لصعوبه الترجمه..انا بحاول اضيف الوصفات بالعربي بس ضيق الوقت ما بيساعد
      لو احببتي ممكن ابعتلك وصفه المعمول ايميل

  23. Anonymous

     /  January 4, 2014

    Hi, I am new to Jordan. I am so happy to find your food blog and enjoy reading all the Jordanian recipes you shared with us.

    I am confused with the flour labeling here. What does zero flour and flour no. 1 mean?

    • So sorry for the delay
      Welcome to Jordan :)
      I usually buy the zero flour to replace the all purpose flour in recipes.
      I never use no. 1 flour as I don’t like the way it performs in recipes

  24. I love zaatar, mahlab and mastic! Can’t live without them <3

  25. yesenia

     /  May 27, 2014

    Wow! what an amazing blog you have! I came here because I Googled how to make Labneh cheese and can’t stop reading the recipes! Thank you from California! I love learning about new food, culture & spices… will definitely follow your blog :)

  26. nora

     /  May 28, 2014

    روعة روعة روعة كلمة مبدعه قليل بحقك ماشاء الله .
    اتمنى اذا عندك حساب انستقرام تضيفين رابط حسابك

  27. Teresa

     /  July 9, 2014

    I look forward to reading your recipes and trying some of them. I am American and my husband is Moroccan. I am pretty handy in the kitchen but need some easy to follow recipes that would be appealing to him and his family. I wanted to try a few recipes I found elsewhere, but need to search out a few ingredients that were not available at my grocery store.

  28. Samia

     /  July 25, 2014


    I just wanted to thank you for this lovely blog!! It is such a pleasure reading all your posts. I am half german and half egyptian and after many years in Saudi-Arabia and Cairo I am now living with my family in Germany. I was looking for such a long time for cooking books which contain arabic recipes that remind me of my childhood. Here in Germany it is very hard to find. But now since I found your blog that I will follow always I can finally cook amd bake all these delicious treats.

    Thank you again

  29. shaymaa

     /  August 10, 2014

    Hi can you tell me what adffrenc between (mastic) (mastica )and(Arabic gum) thanx

  30. levantinecenter

     /  November 3, 2014

    Shuqran, ya Sawsan, I really appreciate your site. Check out mine: http://levantinecenter.org!

  31. what an incredibly helpful guide :)

  32. Anonymous

     /  November 17, 2014

    Hi Sawsan, I thought zaatar is thyme not oregano or am I mistaken?

  33. Anonymous

     /  November 22, 2014

    I had a small sample of falafel from a friend, now I’m hooked!, all these spices & ingredients sound so nice, will be stocking up with these to try!.. Great site, thanks!

  34. Pilko

     /  November 22, 2014

    Exellent! Thanks.. :)

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