Thyme is a native herb of the Mediterranean region but has naturalised well in the UK and will grow happily in a sunny position. Thyme has antiseptic properties and has been used in a number of medicinal ways over the years. The ancient Egyptians used thyme to help preserve mummies. Thyme is also said to aid the digestion of fats so it makes a good accompaniment to dishes that use a lot of butter or fat.
Thyme works well with meaty dishes and is especially good as an ingredient in stews and stocks. It may also be used as an ingredient in marinades for meats, tofu and vegetarian substitutes and some vegetables.
There are several varieties of thyme, including French and English thyme, and lemon thyme, which has a mild lemon flavour (if you are looking for a substitute for lemons, however, lemon balm has a much stronger lemon taste). English thyme has broad dark green leaves and a stronger flavour than lemon thyme.
Thyme has a strong, pungent flavour, which makes it an ideal herb to use as an accompaniment for meaty dishes. It is not advised that you use thyme to flavour fish dishes as the taste can overpower the fish. Even when cooking thyme with meat, you should only use one teaspoon at a time as too much flavouring can ruin a meal.
Cooking Ideas for Thyme
Try adding dried thyme to the tomato bases for pizzas, or add one teaspoon to meaty soups, casseroles and spaghetti bolognaise. Thyme may even be added to the dough when making bread, or very sparingly in biscuit recipes.
For a delicious vegetable stock, mix a medley of roasted vegetables in boiling water with salt, pepper and garlic and 1-3 tsp thyme (depending on your taste – remember fresh thyme is less pungent than dried thyme).
Simmer for half an hour, then strain and discard the vegetables and use the liquid as a base for soups, marinades or casseroles. You can also use the stock to make flavoursome gravy to serve with roast meat.
Thyme is also a great flavouring for vegetarian and tofu dishes, and will lend much of its flavour to a marinade for tofu or seitan.
Thyme may be harvested throughout the year. However, its leaves taste best in June and July. Simply remove the sprigs using scissors or secateurs. Make sure you leave enough leaves on the plant so it has enough energy to re-grow. Wash the stems thoroughly and remove the woodiest parts of the stems before adding it fresh to your dish.
Thyme may be dried; the drying process concentrates the flavour of thyme and therefore you should use less dried thyme in cooking than fresh thyme.
Thyme is a pungent-flavoured herb that works well with meaty dishes such as casseroles, soups and stocks. It also makes a fantastic ingredient to marinades, which can be used to flavour meat, vegetarian substitutes (such as tofu and seitan) and vegetables.
Thyme may be used fresh or dried and its flavour becomes more concentrated when it is dried. It is best used sparingly as its flavour can quickly overpower a dish.