TV Shows & Podcasts

How the Smell of Za'atar Brought Two Internet Strangers Together

On this week's episode of Proof: A story of smell, memory, and home.

Published Aug. 26, 2021.

The other day I made a key lime pie. I was grating the zest from a half dozen limes, when suddenly, my mind wandered to a family vacation in the Florida Keys. We were eating conch fritters, sipping on margaritas, the warm sea breeze against our sun-soaked skins. All it took was the whiff of fresh limes—and it whisked me back to a time and place.

Smells have that effect on us. The way humans work, the signals your nose sends to your brain go through the parts where emotions and memories get made. It’s why a whiff of cotton candy might make you feel nostalgic for childhood.

On this week’s episode of Proof, we bring you an amazing story of two Palestinian women who’ve never lived in their homeland, who met and bonded on Instagram because of a specific smell: za’atar.

How To Make Za'atar Spice Blend

The combination of dried herbs, toasted sesame seeds, and tart, citrusy sumac makes for an earthy yet brightly flavored seasoning.  

Za’atar is both an herb and a spice blend. The latter is likely what most associate with za’atar: a mixture of sesame seeds, a Levaintine type of oregano, marjoram, thyme, and sumac (variations abound). It is the taste and foundation of many Middle Eastern dishes, and one whiff of the pungent and bright spice mix is enough to bring people home.

In this episode, you’ll meet Nadia Tommalieh and Lulu Abura. After listening, you’ll want to check out Nadia’s Palestinian recipes and try Lulu’s za’atar crackers (I’ve tried them, and they’re really tasty.)

Listen to Proof on your favorite podcast player.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

And now, a note from our fine sponsors:

Get high quality cured meats and charcuterie in stores and online at Veroni USA.

Use code ATK15 for 15% off on

Visit for $100 to spend on wine.

Photo: annick vanderschelden photography, Getty Images

These regional recipes are among our all-time favorites. Start a free trial to access them, plus all of our other rigorously tested, reliable recipes and reviews.

This is a members' feature.