The ancient Greeks believed that thyme was a source of courage, they used it in their baths and burnt it as incense in their temples. Today, thyme is widely cultivated and used for its strong flavour although it does not overpower and blends well with other herbs and spices. As with bay leaves, thyme is slow to release its flavours, so it is usually added early in the cooking process.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has tiny grayish green leaves and is an essential herb throughout much of Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and the Caribbean. Thyme’s concentrated spicy, clove-like aroma is highly adaptable and blends well with the foods of many cuisines; in fact, many chefs feel that thyme is the most indispensable herb in the kitchen.
Because of thyme’s versatility, it is a foundation herb in seasoning mixes from Turkey to the Caribbean. New Orleans’s Creole cuisine uses thyme extensively and Cajun seasoning typically contains thyme, as does Jamaican jerk seasoning. In central Europe, thyme seasons soups, fish, meat, poultry, and eggs, and in Britain, thyme is the most popular culinary herb besides mint.
Thyme leaves tend to be woody and must be finely chopped before using. Dried thyme is very strong and works best with spicy foods, particularly meat dishes. Fresh thyme has a softer, less smoky flavour and won’t overpower fish, seafood, or vegetables.
The flowers of wild thyme (T. serpyllum), which grows in the mountains of temperate Europe, flavour Bénédictine, a liqueur that originated during the Renaissance. The flavour of lemon thyme (T. citriodorus) complements fish especially well. Potent Mediterranean conehead thyme (T. capitatus) is used for the pickled thyme sold in Middle Eastern groceries, and nectar from its blossoms yields the famed Mount Hymettus honey from Greece. Caraway thyme (T. herba-barona) has a strong caraway-like fragrance.
- Other Names
- Common thyme: Cimbru de cultură (Romanian); English thyme; French thyme; garden thyme; koranit or timin (Hebrew); mashterka gradinska (Bulgarian); taimu (Japanese); thym ordinaire (French); thymari (Greek); thymian (German); timo (Italian); timyan (Yiddish); tomilho (Portuguese); tomillo (Spanish); za’atar (Farsi); zatr (Arabic).
Wild thyme: Awishan shirazi (Farsi); creeping thyme; kryptimian (Norwegian); kwendel or wilde tijm (Dutch); mother of thyme; serpillo (Italian); serpolet (French); serpoleto (Spanish); zhumbricë (Albanian).
- Thyme is in season in the summer, though available fresh year-round at supermarkets. Thyme flowers in June, so that’s a good time to buy it. For the largest variety, including lemon and other scented thymes, look for fresh thyme at farmers markets.
- Purchase and Avoid
- Look for thyme with bright-coloured leaves. Avoid blackened or dried-out thyme. Variegated yellow and green lemon thyme may occasionally be found.
- Thyme keeps quite well in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks, becoming desiccated and darker as it ages.
Simmer French green lentils with thyme and use as a bed for sautéed or grilled salmon.
Use lemon thyme with oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sea bass.
Add orange or lemon thyme to seafood stews and marinades for grilled chicken.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Herb
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