Thyme is one of those ingredients that everyone knows about, but few people actually use.
It’s often found in sauces and stews, but it can also be used in savory dishes such as soups, salads, and meatloaves.
It’s no wonder that thyme is so versatile.
It’s easy to grow, and it’s delicious when added to recipes.
But if you’re looking for something new to add to your pantry, here are some herbs you might want to try instead of thyme, and why they may work just as well in your cooking.
What can be substituted for thyme in a recipe?
One of the main reasons that thyme isn’t commonly used is because many cooks don’t know what else to do with it once they’ve cooked it down.
If you’re using it in a sauce or stew, there’s probably plenty of other things you could add.
For example, if you have leftover chicken, roast potatoes, and onions from the night before, why not throw them into a soup?
Or if you’re making a pan sauce, you can toss in some mushrooms, carrots, or even garlic along with the thyme.
But there’s another reason that thyme isn’t common in most kitchens: it doesn’t last long.
Once you cook it down, the leaves will start to fall off, and then the stems become tough and bitter.
This makes it difficult to add to recipes after the initial cooking process.
The good news is that there are a lot of herbs that are similar to thyme, and these can take its place in almost any dish.
Let’s look at some of the best alternatives to thyme, and see which ones would work best in your kitchen.
What can be used in place of thyme?
Here are a couple of alternative herbs that have similar properties to thyme:
Rosemary – This Mediterranean herb has a strong aroma and flavors that are reminiscent of pine trees. Its taste is quite sweet and slightly spicy, which makes it great for adding to meats.
Lemon basil – This Asian herb has a citrus-like fragrance and taste. It works really well with fish and seafood. Lemon basil pairs well with lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil.
Oregano – Oregano is another member of the mint family. The leaves of this plant look like small sprigs of rosemary, and its flavor is very similar to rosemary.
Bay leaf – Bay leaves are dried leaves from the bay tree native to North America. They have a pungent scent and a bitter taste that can be overpowering in some dishes. However, they are perfect when paired with roasted red peppers or tomatoes.
Basil – Basil has a bright green color and a pleasant, lemony aroma. It’s best known for its versatility in cooking. You can use it in both savory and sweet dishes.
Marjoram – Marjoram is a type of oregano that is popular in Italian cuisine. It has a slightly less intense flavor than regular oregano, making it a good substitute.
Cilantro – Cilantro is also known as coriander, and it’s an integral part of Mexican and Latin American cuisines.
Parsley – Parsley is one of the most common kitchen herbs. Although it looks a lot like cilantro, it has a much more robust flavor.
Sage – Sage is a perennial shrub native to Europe. It has a distinctive minty aroma and a sharp taste that make it perfect for poultry and game.
Tarragon – Tarragon is a flowering herb that grows on a vine. It has a mild and somewhat licoricelike taste.
Caraway – Caraway is a member of the parsley family and is grown mainly in Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. It has a distinctively caraway flavor that can be overpowering in some dishes, especially chicken and turkey.
Mint – Mint is a fragrant herb that is widely used in European and Middle Eastern cuisines. It tastes fresh and light, and it complements many different types of foods.
If you don’t have thyme, what can you use?
While there are a lot of herbs out there that could be used to replace thyme, here are some of the most common (and least expensive) options.
Basil – basil is a great option because it goes with almost any dish. You can easily substitute 1/4 cup of fresh basil leaves for 1 tablespoon of thyme in any recipe.
Cilantro – cilantro is another great choice for replacing thyme. Just make sure you buy fresh cilantro, as dried versions tend to taste much more bitter than their fresh counterparts.
Oregano – oregano is another great replacement for thyme. Oregano is commonly used in Italian cuisine, but it’s also widely available in grocery stores. If you can find fresh oregano, you should definitely use it over dried or powdered alternatives.
Parsley – parsley is an easy way to add a little extra flavor to your dishes. Just remember that parsley has a stronger flavor than thyme, so you might need to adjust the amount of time you cook your dish before adding the parsley. For instance, you wouldn’t want to add it to a soup right after boiling it, but you could add it at the end of cooking.
Rosemary – rosemary is actually one of the best herbs for replacing thyme, since its flavor is similar to that of thyme. To get the same effect, you can either use a bunch of rosemary or simply grind up a stick of the herb in a coffee grinder and sprinkle it into your dish.
Sage – sage is another great herb for replacing thyme. Sage has a very distinct flavor that works well in many different dishes. You can even use it in place of thyme in poultry dishes.
Tarragon – tarragon is another great herb for replacing thyme. Tarragon has a light and delicate flavor that complements dishes without overpowering them. You can use tarragon in place of thyme in poultry dishes, as well as fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes.
Herbs vs. Spices
Before you start thinking about swapping in herbs for spices, you should know that herbs and spices often complement each other.
In fact, using both together is one of the easiest ways to enhance your food while saving money on ingredients.
So, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to thyme, keep this in mind.
What can I use instead of thyme?
There are many herbs that are similar to thyme, including oregano, rosemary, sage, basil, mint, fennel, and bay leaves.
Although these herbs all have their own unique flavors, they can all be used interchangeably with thyme for most types of dishes.
Oregano is an herb native to Europe.
It has a strong aroma that makes it a great addition to dishes like tomato sauce, chili, and pizza.
Oregano is also a good substitute for thyme because both are members of the Lamiaceae family.
If you don’t have access to fresh oregano, dried oregano will do the trick.
Rosemary is a perennial shrub native to southern Europe.
Its sharp, slightly citrus-like aroma makes it a great addition to chicken dishes and seafood dishes.
It can be used raw or cooked, either fresh or dried.
Sage is another member of the Lamiaceae family.
Like thyme, sage is often used to flavor stews and soups.
It’s best used fresh because it loses its flavor quickly once dried.
Sage is also a good replacement for thyme because it adds a distinctive flavor to dishes without overpowering them.
Basil (or “sweet basil”) is an annual herb that originated in India.
It is related to mint, which means it tastes a lot like mint.
Basil is often used in Italian cuisine, especially pasta dishes.
Not only does it taste great on pasta, but it also helps keep your breath smelling fresh by keeping bacteria at bay.
Fennel is a biennial herb from Italy that has a licorice-like flavor.
Fennel is best known for its use in fish dishes.
It is commonly used in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, and it pairs well with shrimp, salmon, and scallops.
Bay leaf is a perennial herb native to China.
It has a mild, sweet, and peppery flavor that makes it perfect for adding flavor to poultry, pork, and beef dishes.
Bay leaves can also be used as a garnish for desserts.
Is there a substitute for thyme?
One of the great things about thyme is its versatility.
You can use it in almost any dish where you would normally add salt or pepper, and it will add a distinct flavor.
That said, there are plenty of herbs that can take thyme’s place in your favorite recipes.
Basil: Basil has a similar flavor profile to thyme. It’s best known for being an ingredient in pesto, which makes it a good option for adding flavor to pasta dishes.
Bay leaves: Bay leaves have a strong flavor that can easily stand up to a lot of different dishes. They’re especially useful when preparing dishes like chicken soup, stews, and casseroles.
Caraway: Caraway seeds are another herb that adds a distinctive flavor to many dishes. They’re often used in German cuisine, but you can find them in lots of other cuisines too.
Celery seed: Celery seeds have a strong, earthy flavor that goes well with poultry and fish. They can also be used in salad dressings and marinades.
Chives: Chives are a member of the onion family, so they’ll add a milder onion flavor to your dishes than fresh onions would. They also go well with seafood and eggs.
Chive blossoms: Like chives, chive blossoms are part of the onion family. Their delicate flavor pairs well with fish and shellfish, and they also pair nicely with potatoes.
Dill: Dill is a common ingredient in Scandinavian cuisine, and it’s also very popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It works particularly well with seafood, egg dishes, and salads.
Fennel: Fennel is a bulbous vegetable that grows in clusters on top of tall stalks. Its flavor is reminiscent of licorice. It’s usually used in savory dishes, but it can be used in desserts too.
Garlic: Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in history, and it’s still used today in countless recipes around the world. It should be chopped finely before adding to dishes, because large chunks of garlic can overpower the other flavors in the dish.
Herbs de Provence: Herbs de Provence (or simply “herbes de Provence”) is a blend of herbs that originated in France. The exact mix varies from region to region, but it typically includes basil, fennel, lavender, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme. These herbs are commonly used in French cuisine, and they also go well with pork and lamb.
Lemon balm: Lemon balm is a common culinary herb that’s often used as an alternative to mint. It has a slightly lemony taste that complements many dishes.
Mint: Mint is a perennial herb that’s native to Europe and Asia. It’s available in many forms, including leaf, stem, and flower. It’s most famous for its pungent aroma, but it also adds a nice flavor to desserts, drinks, and savory dishes.
Oregano: Oregano is a beautiful purple-red plant that’s commonly grown in southern Italy. It has a powerful scent and flavor that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. It’s often paired with red meats and tomato sauces.
Parsley: Parsley is a perennial herb that’s considered a staple in Italian cuisine. It’s best known for its bright green color and distinctive flavor, but it can also be used to add texture to salads and soups.
Rosemary: Rosemary is a woody evergreen shrub that’s native to Europe and North Africa. This herb has a strong piney flavor that goes well with poultry and game.
Sage: Sage is a perennial herb that’s native to Europe and North America. It’s traditionally used in savory dishes, but it can also be used to flavor desserts and baked goods.
Shallot: Shallots are a type of onion that’s commonly used in Asian cuisine. They have a mild onion flavor that’s perfect for flavoring soups and sauces.
Tarragon: Tarragon is a perennial herb that’s native to Europe and Northern Africa. It has a light licorice flavor that goes well with poultry and shellfish.
Truffles: Truffles are fungi that grow underground. Because of their rarity, they’re extremely expensive, making them a luxury ingredient. However, they do offer a unique flavor that’s perfect for pairing with rich foods like cheese and chocolate.
Vanilla bean: Vanilla beans are the dried pods of vanilla orchid flowers. They’re harvested from Madagascar, Mexico, and Tahiti, and they’re highly prized for their distinctive flavor. They go well with dairy products, chocolate, and fruit.