9 Amazing Substitute For Thyme That Will Greatly Improve Your Cooking
by Christopher Jones
Do you run out of Thyme? Oh, how you want to know what to replace it with? Can anything even remotely replace thyme? I don’t think there is really something that can replace Thyme in that sense of the word. I mean, really? Unseat thyme in the cooking hierarchy of herbs? Not in my weirdest imagination!
But while you can’t really replace it, there are what you can call “softer” herbs that serve as a substitute for thyme in emergency situations. And it’s not only during dire straits that you’d want to use a substitute because there are times when you need to give your cooking the much-needed boost.
Basically, thyme is used for seasoning during food preparation. It’s aroma greatly augment food of any kind, whether its meat, fishes or vegetables. These nine amazing substitute for thyme are known to be softer in terms of aroma but with the right proportion, can greatly improve your cooking like thyme would. Try them for yourself and find out.
Minced savory leaves combined with lemon, garlic and bay leaves is a good marinade for fish. It brings about an agreeable flavor, tasty and mild which means that the food is not overpowered by it. This herb has been used in culinary arts for 2,000 years, as a medicinal plant even longer. It’s aromatic and carminative properties are used for warming up and applied primarily for colic and flatulence and it’s even considered a good expectorant. While there are a lot of varieties of savories, the most popular are the Winter Savory and the Summer Savory primarily because these two are the most cultivated by cooks and herbalist alike.
Winter Savory (Satureja montana) –Is a perennial herb that doesn’t require much to grow. As long as it has good exposure to sunlight and properly drained, it will reward you with ample supply of leaves to enrich your cooking. Add some fresh sprigs to onions, celery, and butter beans, a little bit of chili to add heat and a bit of lemon for a little sour taste and you have a tasty dish.
Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis)–Considered to be more flexible in terms of flavor compared to Winter Savory, its thyme-like pungency makes it perfect spice for poultry. Although we are talking about thyme substitutes, this herb is also a good substitute for parsley if you’re making gremolata served together with oily fish like bluefish or mackerel. Ample sunlight and a little bit of water are all you need to grow this herb.
Considered by all cooks as a go-to herb in the kitchen, the fresh oregano’s robust woodsy flavor makes it impeccable when used with chicken whether grilled, roasted, baked or poached. Regardless of how you will cook your chicken, Oregano is capable of making it taste better. You can mince it and mix into the marinade, or you can just stuff whole sprigs inside the chicken before you roast it and the result will be perfect.
Probably known only among veteran chefs, Marjoram is often mistaken as Oregano although it has a milder flavor. Its slightly sweet and delicate flavor makes it a versatile spice for different kinds of food. Although traditionally used for meat like lamb, pork, beef, veal and chicken, this herb is used with vegetables nowadays. Take note, however, that Marjoram can’t withstand long hours of cooking because its flavor and aroma are easily destroyed. Use it therefore at the end of the cooking process.
Among be most important of culinary herbs, Basil exudes with the aroma of clove and licorice. While there are many types of basil, the sweet Basil is the favorite in southern France to make pistou. When combined with tomatoes, Basil is superb when used salads, sandwiches, sauces and soups. One famous salad comes to mind—the Insalata Caprese which is famous on the island of Capri—is made from basil, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and fruity olive oil.
Purple Opal—This kind of basil gives that light hint of cinnamon, mint, licorice and clove with a little of bit of spice. The Purple Opal basil is in its top form when used with beverages, salads and baked goods.
The Thai Basil—This variety has a serrated edge and pointed end and it gives off that peppery anise aroma. With its tiny hint of spicy heat, this type of basil is famous in various Thai and other Asian cuisines.
Sweet Genovese—Also known as Sweet Italian, this is the most common type of basil and it’s excellent for Italian and Thai cuisines. The rich licorice-clove flavor that it gives out makes it the perfect partner of tomatoes in salads.
5. Bay Leaves
If you let Bay leaves simmer for five minutes, what you’ll get is eugenol which is the eucalyptus and menthol flavor found in Vicks VaporRub. What is Vicks doing in my stew, says you. But if you allow it to simmer with the meat until it’s tender, you will realize that the eugenol will taper down and is replaced with a tea-like aroma. That flavor is what you’re looking for and it is perfect for stews, sauces, and soups. Due to its mild flavor, many consider this herb secondary to more prominent flavored ones.
This all-around herb has been used in various recipes. In the Mediterranean, the spearmint variety is famous for cooking lambs and is often used for garnishing vegetables and fruit salads. It goes well with a collection of dishes like lamb, peas, carrots, ice cream and drinks like tea, mint juleps, and mojitos.
When you talk about fragrant garnish, this classic herb takes center stage. It is the most common herb in European cookery but it’s famous among Middle Eastern cuisines as well. Use it for a variety of dishes from all over the world, from fish to ham, its fragrance balanced with its grassy note is a real winner.
It’s name derived from the Latin word salus, which means health and wellbeing, Sage has been used for medicinal purposes before it made its way to the kitchen. It helps in digestion of fatty foods, the Romans believe it contributes to longevity. Along with Parsley, the Sage is popular among English cookery and for a good reason. It’s depth of flavor which lingers, together with its pungent appeal provides a savory punch to sausages, stew, and stuffings. Personally, I find no better way in cooking slices of pig’s or lamb’s liver than with finely chopped sage along with salt and pepper and frying them quickly making the outside seared and leaving the middle pink and delicious.
The licorice-like flavor of Tarragon makes it a classic seasoning for French cookery. Whether it’s seafood, vegetables or chicken dishes, this herb is always present along with other seasonings. Garnish Tarragon in chicken stew cooked with white wine and you have a classic French recipe. Soak chicken breast with mustard tarragon sauce and you have a quick and simple recipe which taste like fine dining in a French restaurant.
What do you think of this list? While this is in no way complete, knowing what to substitute for thyme is a good insight every cook should have, especially when you run out of your main spice. And while you can’t really replace thyme in the sense of unseating it, you can use alternative spices to improve your cooking or just simply give it a different twist.
Chris is an avid traveler and a gastronome. He used to live for years in Europe and has far reached many unheard-of corners in Asia. While at it, he never stopped looking for top local foods to try them out. His favorite motto is "how can one live well, travel well, and work well without having good food every time?" Chris received his MBA at University of San Francisco at the age of 24.