Getting to Know Thyme is part of a monthly series here on FBC called The Spice Box. Primarily written by Michelle Peters-Jones, these articles create a spice primer for new and experienced home cooks alike!
Scientific Name: Thymus vulgaris
When I was living in England, I had a friend with a beautiful old flagstone patio. She grew thyme in between these old stones, and every time I walked on them, the bruised leaves sent up this incredible, intoxicating fragrance, that, even though I might have just eaten, would make me hungry all over again.
Thyme leaves are one of those herbs that seem commonplace, but add that note of je nes sais quoi to pretty much any dish you can think of, from warming stews to fresh pastas and salads. Thyme is an evergreen herb, and the most popular genus is bushy and short, with soft, dark green leaves and a thick woody stem. Also known as French thyme, it's the more commonly used herb in the kitchen. There are almost a hundred other varieties of thyme, though the second most commonly used version is lemon and citrus thyme.
Flavour Profile of Thyme
Thyme's instantly recognizable by its unique fragrance. Thyme has a bright, sweet and earthy flavour with notes of pepper, mint, pine and eucalyptus. Lemon thyme, like its name indicates, has a pronounced citrus flavour. Other varieties of thyme mimic the flavours that they're named after.
How to Grow Thyme
Native to the Mediterranean, like mint, thyme is almost ridiculously easy to grow and maintain. It likes well-drained soil, and can grow in pretty rough conditions, but doesn’t like damp conditions. Thyme spreads around a lot, so it's good to give it space. While it can be started from seed, it's best to buy a small plant and either transfer it outdoors or keep it indoors. Thyme's great as an indoor herb and can very easily be overwintered in a large, shallow self-draining pot. If leaving outside, thyme usually comes back in the spring, but it's best to replace the plant every four to five years.
To harvest, just clip the freshest sprigs. It's very easy to dry thyme, either in a dehydrator or in a low oven. You can also hang bunches of thyme upside down in a cool, dry place. Thyme leaves can also be picked and frozen. Freeze them in a single layer on parchment, and transfer to a container once frozen.
Culinary Uses of Thyme
It's hard to find a European, Middle-Eastern and Western cuisine that doesn’t use thyme. Thyme's used both fresh and dried. It's used in almost every kind of dish that calls for herbs, and thanks to its mellow flavour it enhances other flavours as well as blends in with them. It does, however, have a stronger taste than more delicate herbs, so if you're unsure, it's best to add thyme a little at a time, until you're happy with the balance of flavours. Thyme is used in soups, stews, stuffings, sauces and all kinds of cooking. Along with sage, parsley and rosemary, it's a popular seasoning for roast chicken. It's common in French cooking and is one of the classic herbs in a bouquet garni. Middle Eastern cooking uses the herb as a condiment, as well as in cooking.
Pick small, soft, fresh sprigs of thyme for use in cooking. If the sprigs are tough, you'll need to pick the leaves off before chopping or bruising them for the best flavour. Thyme can be added both at the beginning of cooking, or sprinkled over at the end, as a garnish.
Non-Culinary Uses of Thyme
Thyme has been used since ancient times in herbal medicine practices. The Romans collected and displayed large bunches, as they were thought to provide courage. The Greeks used it in their bathwater and thyme was also used as a sleep aid and to ward off nightmares. It was also used a lot at funerals, as burning thyme leaves was thought to ease the path of the soul into the afterlife.
Thyme oil is used in cosmetics, in sanitizers and as an antibiotic. It's grown as ground cover, and to provide nectar for honeybees.
And finally, did you know that thyme is so often confused with oregano, that it is sometimes actually called wild oregano?
- 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- Toast the sesame seeds until lightly golden. Finely chop the thyme leaves.
- Place all the ingredients together in a bowl, and mix well. Stir into olive oil to brush on warmed flatbreads.
- If you want to store this mix, use dried thyme leaves instead of fresh.
Looking for more spices and herbs to jazz up your kitchen creations? Check out these Spice Box profiles:
- Getting to Know Rosemary
- Getting to Know Allspice
- Getting to Know Sage
- Getting to Know Fresh and Dried Mint
What have you made recently with thyme? Share your tips in the comments and leave a link to a recipe so everyone can check it out!
Have a spice you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comments!