A guide to the herb thyme including ideas for use in the kitchen.
Thyme is native to the Mediterranean and Southern European regions and is popular in French cuisine in particular. It is mixed with parsley and bay leaves to form what is called a bouquet garni and is added to soups, stocks, marinades and stews in order to give them a special herby flavour. Thyme is also one of the dried herbs that make up Herbes de Provence.
History of thyme
Thyme has been grown and used in cooking and medicine for thousands of years.
The ancient Egyptians used thyme when embalming their dead pharaohs, as it is a powerful preservative, and the ancient Greeks used to burn thyme in their sacred rituals because of its aromatic smell.
Thyme was also a symbol of bravery and courage and in Medieval times ladies would embroider sprigs of thyme onto a scarf and offer it to their knight.
During the Middle Ages people were given concoctions of thyme to take to treat them against leprosy, the plague, body lice, coughs and digestive problems.
Even today, a major component that is found in thyme is used to make Listerine mouthwash as well as Vicks Vaporub.
Nutritional value of thyme
Thyme has a very strong flavour and should therefore be used sparingly. However, 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme does contain a small amount of the daily dosage required of Vitamins A and C. Thyme is also a good source of iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and manganese.
Health benefits of thyme
Thyme is a particularly important herb for treating respiratory and chest problems. It works well on colds, coughs, asthma and excess mucous. It helps to clear the lungs and make breathing easier. Thyme is also said to be good for the following:
- All chest and breathing problems.
- It increases the amount of good fats in the body that are essential to protect the heart.
- Thyme is a good antioxidant.
- It has antibacterial properties.
- Thyme can help to treat some mouth disorders.
- It also has anti-fungal properties and can help to treat athlete's foot.
- It can help to ease all types of cough.
- Thyme may aid digestion.
- It may be use to calm nervousness.
- It can help relieve swelling of joints and other rheumatic conditions.
- Thyme may be used to treat depression.
- It can help with PMT and menopausal symptoms.
Buying and storing thyme
Fresh thyme is a woody small plant, with tiny leaves that must be stripped from the stem before using, which can be quite tricky.
Keep fresh thyme wrapped in a damp paper towel and place it in the refrigerator in order to keep it fresh for longer.
Dried thyme can be bought in airtight glass jars from the supermarket.
Ideas for using thyme in the kitchen
Thyme is typically used to make stuffing but is also delicious with all types of beans, for example kidney or pinto beans.
Try some of the following ideas for using thyme in your cooking as well.
- Add to bean stews, casseroles and other dishes using beans.
- Add a little thyme to any sauce to go with pasta.
- Sprinkle thyme into scrambled egg or omelette mixtures.
- Add to fish if baking, grilling or poaching.
- Add to soups and stocks for additional flavour.
- Use in marinades for meat, fish and poultry.
- Add to soft cheese and cottage cheese.
- Sprinkle onto salads with cheese.
- Add to breadcrumb mixtures and coat fillets of chicken, veal or turkey and fry.
- Use in homemade stuffing for poultry.
- Sprinkle over lamb or pork chops before grilling.
- Add to a simple tomato, olive oil and vinegar salad.
- Add to homemade beef burger or croquette mixtures.
- Rub thyme into meat before cooking, as it helps to digest the meat.
- Add to dough mixtures for bread and scones.
Three delicious and varied recipes for thyme, including seared scallops with tomato and thyme, potato rösti with garlic and thyme and grilled sardines with thyme.
Seared Scallops with Tomato and Thyme
If you are trying to impress with a dish that is a cut above the rest, try this Mediterranean recipe for seared scallops.
- 16 freshly shelled scallops
- 6 large plum tomatoes
- 6 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of freshly chopped thyme
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 sprigs of rosemary
- juice of 1 lemon
- rock salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- If you have shelled the scallops yourself, then make sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards. Pat them really dry with some kitchen paper and place in a medium-sized bowl.
- Add 3 tbsp of the olive oil together with the chopped garlic, thyme and a little salt and pepper. Mix well to coat the scallops, cover and place in the refrigerator whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Cut the tomatoes in half lengthways and place next to each other in a large, shallow roasting tray.
- Season the tomatoes liberally with the rock salt and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Place the rosemary sprigs into the tin also.
- Place the roasting tray in the preheated oven and cook the tomatoes for between 35 - 45 minutes until the tomatoes are soft.
- 30 minutes into cooking time, heat a tiny amount of olive oil in a large frying pan until the pan is fairly hot.
- Add the scallops and cook for 2 minutes at the most on each side and then turn over and cook for the same amount on the other side. Do not overcook the scallops, as it will ruin the texture and flavour. They will be done as soon as they turn opaque white and are lightly browned.
- Remove the roasted tomatoes from the oven and serve onto warm plates with the scallops.
- Tip the juices from the roasting tray into the frying pan that contained the scallops, add the lemon juice and mix well in the pan. Pour the juice over the tomatoes and the scallops and serve immediately.
Potato Rösti with Garlic and Thyme
These delicious herby potato rösti can be served as an accompaniment to roast meat. Rösti is the national dish of Switzerland, where it is often eaten for breakfast.
- 1 lb (450 g) potatoes
- 3 oz (85 g) butter
- 4 crushed cloves of garlic
- 1˝ tbsp of freshly chopped thyme
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Scrub the potatoes and peel them. Place them in a bowl of cold water as you go along. Once all the potatoes are peeled, drain them and cut into thin slices. Then cut the slices into sticks.
- Place the sticks into a bowl and add the crushed garlic and thyme. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Clarify the butter. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to stand. The unwanted sediment should sink to the bottom. Spoon or pour off the golden-coloured butter from the top and transfer to a clean dish.
- Pour 2 tbsp of the clarified butter into a heavy-duty frying pan that is suitable for oven use and add the potato sticks. Press the potatoes down so that they are slightly compressed.
- Pour over the rest of the butter and cook on a medium heat until the potatoes have browned on the underside.
- Cover the pan with a lid or a sheet of aluminium foil and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.
- Remove the lid from the pan and place a plate over the top. Turn the pan over so that the rösti is inverted. Slide the rösti back into the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes so that the other side browns nicely.
- Once the rösti is cooked transfer to a warmed plate and cut into individual pieces and serve.
Grilled Sardines with Thyme
If you are unsure of how to prepare sardines, try our recipe for grilled sardines with a twist. Serve as a starter or as a main meal with a fresh green salad.
- 12 fresh sardines (cleaned and gutted)
- 12 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 3 tbsp of lemon juice
- salt (rock salt if possible) and pepper
- Rub the sardines with kitchen paper in order to remove the scales from the skin and wash and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Take one sprig of thyme and insert it into the body cavity of one sardine. Repeat with the remaining sardines and thyme sprigs.
- Place the sardines into a dish and season with salt and a little pepper.
- In a separate small mixing bowl, blend together the olive oil and the lemon juice and pour evenly over the sardines.
- Cover the dish and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to marinate.
- Preheat the grill or barbeque to fairly high and place the sardines on the rack. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side until done.
- Serve immediately with the remaining marinade juice or just with a lemon wedge if you prefer.