Out of thyme? While herbs and spices play a vital role in adding flavor to a dish, running out of a key ingredient doesn't necessarily have to ruin your recipe. Chances are, you already have a number of excellent substitutes for thyme in your kitchen cabinets. In this guide to thyme substitutes, we'll highlight what thyme is, how to use it in the kitchen, and what other herbs can be used as a substitute for thyme.
What is thyme, and how is it used?
Thyme is a versatile herb used to season various dishes, both on its own and in spice blends like Italian seasoning, Herbes de Provence, poultry seasoning, and Za'atar. Unlike most herbs, thyme can withstand long cooking times without losing its strong flavor. Because of its versatility, thyme is used in a wide range of cuisines, including French, British, Mediterranean, African, Latin, Caribbean, and some regional American dishes.
In addition to its delicious herby flavor, thyme also offers anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, it's been used in aromatherapy, holistic medicine, and a number of home remedies for centuries to boost the immune system, alleviate respiratory problems, aid digestion, improve circulation, and fight infections.
Flavor Profile of Thyme
Thyme has a sharp, slightly sweet flavor that adds depth and complexity to all sorts of dishes. As a member of the mint family, it's a bit spicy and a bit minty, with woodsy, earthy, and floral notes (similar to lavender and rosemary). Some varieties can taste slightly bitter.
Types of Thyme
Fresh thyme comes in long, thin sprigs of small, spear-shaped leaves. It's typically de-stemmed and finely chopped before use but is sometimes added to the dish's whole.
Dried thyme can be found in the spice aisle at most grocery stores. When substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs, use one-third to one-half the amount of dried thyme as you would fresh.
Lemon thyme is a popular variety of thyme that has a pungent citrusy aroma and a lemony flavor. It's typically less bitter than regular thyme and brings a nice balance of sweet and sour to your cooking. Because of its lemon notes, it's a good choice for vegetables, fish, and chicken dishes.
Other herbs that can be used as thyme substitutes
The best thyme substitutes are other herbs in the mint family (such as oregano, sage, and savory) and seasoning mixes that contain thyme. Here are a few common herbs that can be used as an alternative to thyme:
When it comes to thyme substitutes, you can't get much better than a spice blend, like Italian seasoning, that contains thyme. While the ingredients vary from brand to brand, most contain oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme, and rosemary. The other spices will only further enhance the flavors of your dish.
The seasoning mix makes a good substitute for thyme in Mediterranean and Italian dishes like soups, stews, pasta sauces, lasagna, pizza, meatballs, and tomato-based dishes. When making the swap, use the same amount of Italian seasoning as the recipe calls for thyme.
Herbes de Provence
Like Italian seasoning, Herbes de Provence acts as a great substitute for thyme because it contains thyme. It usually includes a blend of basil, bay leaf, lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme. While it's best known for its use in French cuisine, it's also common in Mediterranean and European cooking.
The addition of lavender flowers brings a unique flavor to creamy sauces, vegetables, and roasted meats. Use the same quantity of the seasoning mix as you would dried thyme.
Oregano has many of the same flavor notes as thyme, making it one of the best substitutes for thyme. It's from the same family of herbs and has a slightly stronger flavor with just the right savory-sweet balance. When using oregano as a substitute, use a 1 to 1 ratio of dried oregano to dried thyme.
Savory has a mild flavor compared to thyme but can bring a similar overall flavor to a dish when used as a thyme substitute. Its earthy, peppery flavor adds depth and complexities to your food, making it a suitable choice for a wide range of recipes, including soups, stews, veggies, and bean dishes. The two most popular varieties are summer savory and winter savory, both of which are often used to season meat and poultry. Stick to a 1 to 1 ratio when using savory as a substitute for thyme.
Like thyme, marjoram is a member of the mint family, so it can bring many of the same flavors to your dish. It's woodsy, citrusy, and a bit floral, with a slightly sweeter and stronger flavor than thyme. When using marjoram as a substitute for thyme, use the same amount of fresh marjoram as you would fresh thyme.
Sage, Basil & Rosemary
While the sage, basil, and rosemary aren't the best substitution for thyme, they can be used if need be. Because of their unique taste and aroma, the herbs will add other flavors to your dish that may alter the end result. They should be added sparingly in small amounts to avoid overpowering the more delicate flavors in your favorite recipe. Be sure to taste tests as you go to ensure you achieve the right balance.