We are looking at the top 10 spices that every cook should have on hand in their kitchen to make the most basic of dishes. Certainly this list is rudimentary and not meant to cover all ethnic bases. If we’re missing something or want to weigh in on this, please drop us a line at email@example.com.
History/Where it comes from
A member of the mint family, the use of thyme goes back to the ancient Greeks who, like the Romans after them, burned it as incense (as a mood enhancer and stress reducer) and used it to flavor distilled spirits and cheese. Most of the thyme we buy in the spice aisle of our grocery store originates in Europe, especially Germany, although it is also grown in California and Mexico. It is pretty hearty, loves lots of direct sun and can handle hard freezes, so once you plant it, it will come back year after year. And it produces hundreds of tiny white, blue or pink flowers, depending on the variety, that are a good source of nectar and therefore attract honeybees.
In the garden, it is recommended that you trim the plant back after it flowers to keep it robust and vigorous. Because it is so tough, it is sometimes used as groundcover (usually the woolly thyme), even in heavy traffic areas and between paver stones. There are more than 350 varieties of thyme known and it grows low to the ground as well as upright and bushy.
The most common type of thyme (thymus vulgaris) has a minty, lemony fragrance and imparts a long-lasting, warm, tangy flavor to foods. The lemon thyme variety pumps up the citrus flavors of the spice, and there are orange and lime versions as well. Fresh thyme is more flavorful than dried, but only lasts (with all its flavor) for about a week or two in the refrigerator. But dry thyme retains its flavor and aroma better than most other herbs. Rubbed thyme is the same as dried thyme, only the dried leaves have been rubbed into a fine powder.
Where to buy
As mentioned, thyme is easy to grow and worth having around the garden. Most grocery stores carry both fresh sprigs of thyme (in the produce section along with the fresh mint and oregano) and dried thyme (found in the spices section). Keep the dried thyme in a sealed container in a cool, dry place and it should keep for about a year.
How to use
Sprigs of fresh thyme are part of the collection of herbs known as a bouquet garni (typically thyme and bay leaves and either sage, parsley or sometimes tarragon). This collection can be tied together with a string or placed in a cheesecloth pouch and added to soups, sauces and stews. Bundling the herbs together makes it easier to fish them all out at once when done cooking. Thyme is also one of the herbs found in herbes de Provence (thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram and oregano).
Thyme is added to sauces, stocks, soups, sautéed vegetables and stews, and can be sprinkled on eggs, meats, fish and beans for flavor. Thyme doesn’t lose a lot of its flavor and aroma during cooking, hence why it is added as a bouquet garni early in the making of soup and sauces. It’s also a common ingredient in red sauces (marinara and meat sauces) served on pasta.
Who’s cooking with it?
It’s a good bet that the new gluten-free Fresh Thymes Eatery on 30th Street in Boulder is using it on their gluten free pizzas and other fresh made dishes. They also deliver: freshthymeseatery.com. The Med in Boulder uses thyme in and on several dishes including in the delicious honey-thyme vinaigrette served with their Calbasitas y Queso and Betteraves Roties as well as in the Mussels a la Provencal.