Easy Substitutes for Thyme
Thyme, one of the oldest and most aromatic of organic herbs is now a staple ingredient in many soup bases, chowders and Ragu sauces today. Yes, without question this amazing seasoning blend serves a great purpose in the culinary world. It’s penetrating taste quality can dominate other flavors if not used appropriately by a cook or chef—and this can have a huge impact on food quality and maintaining the integrity of a variety of cultural dishes.
We consider 5 potential substitutes for thyme.
Thyme Culinary Background
But, before we delve to deeply in the culinary role that thyme has today, let’s also remember that this herb held a prolific place in Greek mythology centuries ago. It is clearly enshrouded within the world of fairy tales and historic folklore. Even the name itself is encircled in mystery, but most botanists agree that it was originally known by the Latin term “fumus,” due to it’s highly fragrant aroma.
This very special herb was utilized for purifying temples, providing medicinal remedies, and was often embroidered in a knight’s cloak as a representation of bravery and chivalry. Clearly, in this century it serves more of a culinary purpose, though it’s still multifaceted.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having Buttered Savoy lamb chops, there’s no way you can forget the fresh, herbal taste due to the addition of thyme and rosemary. Because thyme is used quite often it is considered to be the prominent herb in the Limiaceae family, which originated in southern Europe centuries ago. It also holds prominence across the Mediterranean and is the perfect herb to grow if you live in an extremely hot, dry climate, because it is one of the few that actually thrives in drought like conditions.
Using Fresh Thyme in Recipes
Thyme can also be paired with other favored seasonings and substitutions.
Of course, thyme can be found all over the globe today and it is easily grown and cultivated within a personal herb garden—just as long as the location is nice and sunny, and the soil drains well. Now, fresh thyme is an excellent accentuation to many foods, from traditional lasagna and smashed garlic potatoes to herb encrusted seared scallops and lemon thyme chicken—the list can go on and on.
Thyme simply adds an additional earthiness, with a hint of mint to the foods it is applied to, be they meat dishes or veggies. However, what do you do when you have an allergy to this herb, or you simply don’t have it on hand? What kind of alternatives are there, and can the substitutions you might choose to go with improve food quality or ruin a recipe entirely?
Fresh Thyme vs. Dry Thyme
Thyme has alternative herbal seasonings to take its place when there are no other options. But, let’s be clear about one very important characteristic here. There is a distinct difference between fresh thyme and dried thyme. Alternate dried herbs can replace dried thyme, but when it comes to a substitute for fresh it can be a little more complex.
Basil and rosemary muddled together can accentuate meat dishes and veggie dishes excellently—even if thyme is missing. In fact, some people like the more “sweet” flavor this pairing offers, but these are close enough to thyme one would never really noticed the prime herb ingredient missing. Now, while thyme is the distinct, dominant herbal accentuation in many:
- Tomato salad
- Fish chowder
You can still pair these multiple herbs together and create a very similar taste quality and perhaps maybe even better:
5 Thyme Replacement Options
Herbes De Provence
This is a perfect savory, herbal blend that not only mimics the flavor of thyme, but actually enhances the tastes of the dish. This gives a slightly different dimension to the food, but it really brings out the flavors of chicken, potatoes and other Mediterranean dishes. So, you can use this in many Italian fares and even in some seafood dishes.
Because an Italian seasoning mix has marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory and oregano within it, this dried herbal mix can be utilized in place of thyme and adds a terrific flavor of Italy to a variety of Italian dishes. For example, if you’re making:
- Chicken Parmesan
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Leg of Lamb
Then this is the ideal herbal blend you would want to go with to bring your meal to life! Of course, you might want to add a little onion powder and perhaps some fresh basil (as these are common in Italian dishes) but overall, you’ll have the perfect choice of seasoning right here for any of these choices.
Chervil and Rosemary
When pairing chervil and rosemary, the chervil gives the light, minty zing that thyme would normally offer. However, to really bring out this flavor it needs to be paired with an aromatic earthy herb, one like rosemary. The two of these together create a unique flavor sensation and while this isn’t identical to thyme the pairing adds exceptional flavor to those dishes which require this herb. Also, if you’re trying to move a little away from the earth kind of taste of thyme, then these herbs offer more zest and variance of flavor to the dish.
This special herbal mix is very much like thyme, but most cooking connoisseurs claim it to be far more distinct in flavor and much richer in aroma. Since this herb is within the mint family it is the perfect substitute for thyme. While it is a little lighter on the mint side, it provides an extremely herbal taste sensation which is great for dishes like:
- Herb encrusted salmon
- Roasted Parmesan asparagus
- Spinach stuffed tortellini
- Chicken croquettes
Rosemary and Oregano
Because these both hold distinctive qualities—this is what makes them perfect when blended together. However, these work best in lamb, potato and pork recipes, that is, if you’re attempting to match the flavor of thyme. As always, while this won’t mimic the flavor 100% they certainly complement dishes with these meats included. Rosemary and oregano have always been known to be complimentary for potato dishes, so if you’re going with a roast cooking style these seasonings will be perfect in place of thyme.
Cooking with Substitute Seasonings Can Benefit Your Culinary Skills
Whether you’re having to substitute a herbal ingredient because you’re out of it in the kitchen, or because you just want to experiment—becoming more educated on what herbal ingredients can provide what to your meals is important. You can actually become a far better cook when you read up and utilize a variety of herbal substitutes in your dishes.
Remember, some of the best chefs became who they are by experimenting with different ingredients in the kitchen. Now that you’ve discovered a little bit about thyme you should be better able to understand the sophistication that comes with cooking with it. Because this one is versatile and can be used as a condiment as well as a pickling spice, there are a variety of alternative spices, as have been shown here.
Lastly, it is important to remember that substitutes for thyme (or any herbal seasoning) are always dependent on the demands of the recipe you’re going by itself. Some cases demand a thyme substitution if there is a health problem that limits toleration of this spice. So, it isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Just keep in mind that it takes just a bit of experimentation to end up with the ideal flavor enhancer as a replacement in a dish, no matter what the substitution might be.
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