Dried Thyme Leaves: Flavor Profile
Thyme’s flavor is hearty, the perfect mix of citrus zest and herbal spice. And when dried, the herb’s flavor intensifies. Dried thyme leaf is fragrant – rich with a herbal, spicy notes – and it imparts a powerful zesty punch to dishes, that’s similar to summer savory.
The dried thyme rivals the flavor of fresh leaf, as the herb retains most of its essential oil content when dried. Plus, dried leaf also has a more concentrated, spicy and lemony flavor. That’s why it’s a favorite in continental cooking, as well as British and European cuisine. Thyme is a must-have herb that delivers warm, earthy notes to soups, stews, rubs and sauces.
Cooking with Thyme Leaves
Compared to ground thyme, the leaves are more delicate. The flavors infuse over a long period, and that’s why dried leaf is popular in slow-cooked dishes or long-simmering stews and sauces. The herb’s zesty profile pairs well with a range of ingredients, most famously with meats and tomatoes.
A pinch of thyme leaves helps to develop depth of flavor, and it’s commonly used along with oregano, summer savory and marjoram to impart a spicy, leafy herbal flavor on a range of dishes. Thyme works well with:
- Meats – Use it as a dry rub, to season grilled meats, or in sauces for meat dishes. In particular, thyme complements duck, goose, lamb, mutton and pork.
- Stews and Soups – Thyme’s lemony, citrus zest works well in rustic soups and stews. The herb pairs well with tomato, so consider it in tomato-based soups, stews, ratatouille and chilis.
- Herb Blends – Dried thyme leaf is found in a number of popular spice blends, including Caribbean jerk seasoning, Herbes de Provence and Za’atar.
- Eggs and Cheese – The herb complements the creaminess of cheese and egg dishes. It’s the perfect spice for frittatas, omelets or quiche.
- Veggies and Starches – A dash of thyme leaves brightens dull vegetable dishes. Use it over grilled beans, or in mashed potatoes. It’s also a perfect complement for cabbage, peas and onions.
Thyme: A Quick History
Thyme is an herb with a very interesting history, and it first appears in historical records in 2000 B.C. The Egyptians used the herb for a variety of medicinal and ceremonial rites. In fact, thyme was used as an embalming agent.
Thyme has always had cultural significance. The Greeks, for example, believed thyme brought courage. And they used the fragrant herb as an incense and in bathing. Similarly, the Romans used it for its aromatic powers in smelling salts. Yet, the Romans were also the first to use thyme in cooking. Romans used thyme to flavor cheeses and liqueurs, thanks to its citrusy and herbal flavors.
During the Middle Ages, thyme was a symbol of courage, and women would give soldiers bouquets that contained thyme sprigs to bring courage on the battlefield. The herb was also commonly placed under pillows to prevent nightmares and bring on deep sleep.
Thyme was also believed to ward off disease and poisoning. That’s why it was often a favorite herbal seasoning used by emperors during the Middle Ages. And it was widely used during the Black Death plague in the 1300s, as people believed it would offer relief and protection.
Throughout history, thyme has also been a popular culinary herb. Some of the first to utilize it were the Egyptians. They used thyme as a seasoning for breads and roast dishes, and monasteries during ancient times used thyme to season roasts, breads and soups. During the Middle Ages, the herb was distributed throughout Europe (it’s native to the southern Mediterranean). And it become widely used in French, Italian and British cooking. Today, it’s the No. 2 most popular herb in English recipes, behind only mint.
Thyme is a perennial and is one of more than 300 species in the mint family. The herb grows in hot locales and prefers full sun. As it matures, thyme grows to about a foot in height and produces reddish-brown stems and dull green sprigs. In late spring, the plant produces a vibrant pink flower.
The herb is highly adaptive but prefers well-draining soils. You’ll find the herb in many temperate climates, especially in the southern Mediterranean and North Africa. Thyme is grown in Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Spain and Portugal, as well as in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
There are many popular varietals of the herb. Lemon thyme or orange thyme produces a bushier plant with broad leaves. And wild thyme is native to the Catskills in the U.S. (and provides a key nectar source for humming birds). Thymus vulgaris, though, is the most popular varietal for culinary use. It’s commonly called French thyme, English thyme or summer thyme.
About Our Ground Thyme
Spain and Morocco are the world’s most significant growers of thyme, and they produce some of the most fragrant and flavorful thyme in the world. We source our thyme from growers in both countries, depending on the time of the year.
In winter, Morocco produces the most leaves, as its temperature, subtropical climates allows for year-round growing. And in spring, Spanish growers thrive, producing the majority of their yearly output. We purchase thyme leaf in bulk and grind it in our spice shop. We use a fine mesh to produce a smooth, flavorful powder.