Popular Ingredients Used In Middle Eastern Cooking

It’s important to know what goes into your stomach every day. You do not need to be a chef in order to dive deep into the food ingredients that you consume on a daily basis. Knowing the components of your food will help keep a track of your calorie intake, as well as overall nutrition.

Unlike other cuisines, Middle Eastern ingredients hover more on the healthier side. But as with any other food culture, it also has snacking options that are relatively high in fat and calorie content.

Keeping a close eye on the food you eat daily is a great idea. Not only will it enable you to experiment around with your recipes, but it will also help maintain healthy eating habits.

10 Popular Middle Eastern Ingredients For Delicious Recipes

Owing to the distinct flavours of the Arab, a Middle Eastern pantry must be filled with different spices, sauces, and special ingredients. A good recipe incorporates all ingredients in balanced quantities to create an authentic Arabic taste with minimal effort.

In a Middle Eastern household, this list of ingredients in the kitchen mentions all the must-haves. Read ahead to understand where all the distinct flavours in your food come from.

1.    Za’atar:

Za’atar literally means “wild thyme”, and it is a highly aromatic herbal spice blend. A staple in Middle Eastern recipes, the components of this spice blend vary from region to region. However, as the meaning suggests, key ingredients like thyme or oregano are always part of the fusion.

Most variations also contain sesame seeds and sumac spice. Za’atar is frequently used in Middle Eastern cooking, but also commonly used as a table condiment in various households. You can sprinkle the highly fragrant spice on top of your meat, vegetable, and curries to infuse some piquancy into them. It also goes great on flatbread, accompanied by some olive oil.

2.    Olive Oil:

A drizzle of olive oil on top of your favourite flavoured hummus, or harees pudding is all that is needed for that extra kick of flavour. It is used in different types of Arabic food, as a base, or a topping.

Unlike other oil types, olive oil is high in Omega-3 fats, which is a good type of fat. It is also recommended for those with cholesterol issues. With so many benefits, it’s only a good sign if you are taking it in your daily diet.

3.    Sumac:

Sumac is a finely ground spice made with the bright red berries of sumac shrub. It’s a common ingredient found in the spice cabinets of most Arabic pantries.

A little bit of sumac spice is enough to add those pungent flavours and crimson brightness to any recipe. Sprinkle some on top of steamed rice, barbequed meat, or your favourite stew to add some zing to it.

4.    Chickpeas:

Two of the most globally popular Middle Eastern foods, hummus, and falafel are made of chickpeas. These round-shaped beans are representative of Middle Eastern cooking, making the base of a number of Arabic dips, sauces, and even snacks.

With sweet and earthy flavour tones, chickpeas make an ideal ingredient for salads. The best part about this ingredient is that it compliments almost all flavour notes. The astringent flavour of garlic, the neutral taste of vegetables, and the fatty undertone of olive oil all combine naturally with chickpeas to create delicious recipes. It fills you up instantly and also makes a great ingredient for hearty stews and tanginess.

5.    Tahina (Sesame Seeds Sauce):

Tahini or tahina is a runny sesame seed paste used in the preparation of various appetizers and main courses. You can get a store-bought tahini jar, or make some at home with two simple ingredients; sesame seeds and olive oil.

A common ingredient in hummus and baba gamoush, tahini can be used in both sweet and savoury foods. It is also often served with dates and tea to make a post-meal light dessert. In fact, you might also find tahini-flavoured ice cream in traditional Middle Eastern restaurants. The health benefits of sesame seeds are all delivered through this paste, which makes it one of the healthiest ingredients used in Middle Eastern cooking.

6.    Pomegranate Molasses:

Pomegranate is a fruit that has been incorporated into Middle Eastern cooking more frequently than any other type of fruit. From street juice stands to processed molasses, it is liked and eaten all across the Gulf region.

The molasses is made by reducing pomegranate juice until it reaches the desired consistency. The sweet and tart syrupy goodness of this sauce makes the perfect dressing for fattoush salad. It is also frequently used as a marinade for different types of meats and makes a sweet-sour base for Khoreh Fesenjan. A great alternative to vinegar and citrus juice, pomegranate molasses makes one of the key Middle Eastern ingredients.

7.    White Cheese:

White cheese is another name for feta cheese, which is made specifically from goat milk. It is commonly served as a side on Arabic platters or added to salads for a distinct taste.

White cheese is a healthier alternative to other processed fatty cheeses that contribute more to weight gain than good health. It is frequently added in Middle Eastern cooking as a healthy source of fats. White cheese is also served in a breakfast meal, with diced tomatoes on the side of foul beans, falafel, balaleet and boiled eggs.

8.    Saffron:

The crimson red strings of saffron originated from Iran but are now frequently utilized in Middle Eastern recipes as well. A magic ingredient in saffron rice, risotto or paella, this spice is a must-have in every kitchen.

The versatile spice is used both for desserts and savoury dishes. It is also added to warm milk to incorporate some vibrance and interest into it. A staple on the spice shelf, the importance of saffron in Middle Eastern recipes can not be dismissed.

9.    Pistachio Nuts:

Pistachios are more of a dessert ingredient than one used in savoury foods. It makes a perfect filling for phillo pastries like baklava.  Finely chopped pieces of pistachio nuts are also often sprinkled on traditional Arabic desserts like ferni, kunafe, and halwa.

Although more commonly used in desserts, Arabic cuisine also incorporates pistachios in some savoury foods, like jewelled saffron rice, and salads.

10.   Baharat:

While we are on the topic of common Middle Eastern ingredients, Baharat definitely deserves a mention. It is another type of spice blend that combines warm, earthy, tangy and astringent flavour notes. Typically, Baharat includes black pepper, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, and coriander.

The word “Baharat” translates to “spice” itself, and it fuses all the key spice notes to make an unmatched blend. Season your steaks and kebabs with baharat, or toss some of it while making your favourite vegetable stew. It’s the perfect choice to spike up any dish with distinct flavours.


Here is a basic overview of the most common ingredients used for cooking in Middle Eastern cuisine. Now that you know what your food contains, you can create a conscious reminder to improve your diet. By adding more of the healthier ingredients into your recipes, and eliminating the less healthy options, you can improve your overall health effectively.

Arabic-style cooking methods mostly incorporate healthy ingredients, which is why the health charts of the people of this region are a lot better. If you are a fan of either cooking or eating, this ingredients guide is sure to come to use one day.