- Cooking With Thyme: The Do’s and Don’ts
- Cooking with Thyme
- How To Store Thyme For The Freshest Flavor
- In the refrigerator
- Freezing thyme
- Drying thyme
- Tender vs. Hard
- Washing Herbs
- Keeping Herbs Fresh
- How Long to Store
- Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- How to Chop Thyme
Cooking With Thyme: The Do’s and Don’ts
Thyme is an extremely fragrant Mediterranean herb that has been used in Italian, French, and Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. It has made its way around the world and can be found in American and Caribbean dishes as well. Thyme’s pungency is one of its greatest benefits, but can be a drawback if it is used incorrectly. Follow the tips below to get the best results from thyme.
Do use thyme in the right dishes. While thyme has many applications, many of the most popular ones are in French soups and stews where it is often paired with other Mediterranean herbs like marjoram and oregano. It is a great complement to lamb and tomatoes as well. Italian cooks use thyme to cook sea bass and mullets and it shows up in multiple pasta sauce recipes from the south of Italy. You can use it to make a thyme butter that is perfect for basting meats and vegetables on the grill. You can also make your own version of the Middle Eastern herb and spice mix known as za’atar, which features thyme heavily. Za’atar also includes other spices such as sumac and sesame seeds.
Do add thyme early in the cooking process. Thyme is one of those herbs that can stand up to long cooking times and is actually better for dishes that will be braised for hours. When it is included in stocks and stews, it is typically added early on for this reason. Adding it early is especially important if you are using the dried herb. Drying concentrates the flavor in much the same way that it does with oregano. The extra cooking time makes it mellower.
Do store thyme properly. Thyme is one of those hardy herbs that can last for a while, even without being refrigerated. Even so, it will last for even longer if you keep it in the refrigerator. You can keep fresh thyme usable for up to two weeks simply by wrapping the sprigs in damp paper towels and leaving them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Alternatively, you can dry fresh thyme by hanging it in a location with dry, moving air or by using a food dehydrator. If you dry it and store it properly, fresh thyme can last you for several months.
Do measure thyme properly. When cookbooks refer to measurements of thyme, they will usually use the term sprig unless they are referencing dried thyme leaves. There is no agreed-upon definition of sprig when it comes to measuring thyme, but what should work is a main stem about 5 inches long along with its branches and leaves.
Don’t store thyme while it is moist. Storing thyme while it is wet will result in the leaves blackening and falling off within a few days. They will also lose their flavor.
Don’t go overboard with thyme. Thyme is a pungent herb, which means that you will want to be careful with how much of it you use. You also want to give its flavor time to mellow out in your dish. Too much thyme or thyme added too late in the cooking process can result in bitter and overpowering flavor notes. See how to fix this issue.
Don’t serve dishes with thyme sprigs left in them. In most cases, the leaves on sprigs of thyme will fall off during the cooking process. You will need to fish the stems out before serving your dish as the stems can present a choking hazard similar to fish bones.
Cooking with Thyme
One of the many fresh herbs used in many Italian kitchens. The aromatic flavor of thyme complements Southern Italian sauces of hot peppers and eggplants, as well as being a primary herb in soups and stews.
If you’re lucky enough to have plenty of thyme growing in your garden, you might want to do as the ancient Romans did… bathe in it! Greeks and Romans are believed to have added this herb directly to their baths; and oil extracts from the plant were used to make bath and massage oils. Not surprisingly, this aromatic herb was also used as incense. Thyme was associated with health and vigor, and believed to strengthen and purify the body. Today, its essential oil, thymol, still has many therapeutic applications – it is widely used as an antiseptic and disinfectant, and infusions of thyme are believed to be an excellent remedy for respiratory and throat ailments … and even hangovers! Thyme is also said to help in the digestion of fatty foods.
But the culinary applications of this Mediterranean herb, which is now cultivated in many regions of the world, are what interests us most here. Thyme is widely used in Italian cooking – where it is know as “timo, pronounced “tee-mo” – and even more so in French cuisine. Though there are something like 300 varieties of this herb, the most common types used in cooking are Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), Thymus citriodorus (citrus thyme, Thymus herba-barona (caraway thyme) and Thymus serpillum (wild thyme) – which is often found in United States. Common thyme, the variety most often found in Italy, is a perennial plant, six to twelve inches tall, with tiny oval leaves and a particular, pungent aroma.
When cooking with thyme be sure to add it early in the process so the oils and flavor have time to be released. This herb is great when used fresh, and goes well in many typical southern Italy pasta sauces which often feature peppers and eggplants. Thyme also is a great complement for many vegetables, including tomatoes and roasted potatoes. Many grilled and oven roasted fish recipes, such as spigola (sea bass) ortriglie al forno (mullets), call for thyme. For roasted and grilled meats, thyme marries well with sage and rosemary. When you grill, you can get great results if you marinate the meat for a few hours before grilling with those three herbs (thyme, sage and rosemary), along with good quality Italian olive oil and pepper. Thyme is often used in stocks and stews – it is an essential component of the bouquet garni and herbes de Provence that are often used in Italian cooking – and in aromatic oils as well.
How To Store Thyme For The Freshest Flavor
Thyme is a hardy, versatile herb that remains as useful when preserved as it is when fresh. You can have the thyme taste year round if you use the right methods to preserve it. Let’s review how to store thyme for the freshest possible flavor.
In the refrigerator
Thyme’s hardiness means that you can simply toss it into a resealable container and stick it in your refrigerator with no other precautions. It should still remain usable for several weeks.
To keep thyme tasting fresh for even longer, roll it in a damp paper towel and place it in a resealable plastic bag.
A third option for long term storage is to stand your thyme sprigs up like a bouquet of flowers in a drinking glass or jar with about an inch of water inside. You can place them in your refrigerator just like that or opt for a taller resealable container to keep water from spilling if it gets knocked over. Frequent water changes can keep your thyme lasting for three months or longer using this method.
Thyme is robust enough to withstand being frozen with no effects on its texture or flavor. Just place the sprigs in a freezer bag and put them in your freezer. Once you remove the thyme from the freezer, the leaves will be easy to remove from the stems. Just pull the tines of a fork through the stems or pull the leaves off with your fingers.
You can also use the same ice cube method that is so effective with other herbs. You will want to remove the leaves from the stems first. The fork method may not be as effective with fresh, unfrozen thyme so simply pinch the stems between your thumb and forefinger and pull your fingers down the stem to break off the leaves. Place the leaves into an ice cube tray and fill with water. Place the tray into the freezer. Once the cubes are solid, remove them from the tray and place in freezer bags. You can simply pop one of these cubes into a beef stew or pasta sauce to enjoy the taste of fresh thyme whenever you like.
Thyme is one of those herbs that retains much of its flavor when dried. The fastest way to dry thyme is with a food dehydrator. Preheat the dehydrator to between 90 and 100 degrees. Use a fine screen on the dehydrator trays to save any leaves that fall from the stems. Your thyme can take between one and three hours to dry completely. Start checking it every half an hour after the first hour. When the leaves crumble easily, it is ready to come out. Remove the leaves from the stems and place into airtight containers for storage.
Another easy way to do it is to simply air dry it. Poke some holes and in a paper bag and place it over the bunch of thyme. Hang the bunch in a location with dry, moving air. The bag will catch any leaves that fall off and will keep your thyme from getting dusty. After about 10 days, your thyme should be dry and ready for storage.
You can also dry thyme in your microwave. Place the sprigs in a single layer on dry paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds at a time. Between each session, turn and rearrange the sprigs.
Your oven can also dry thyme quickly. Preheat it to 180 degrees and place the thyme sprigs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven with the door open. Keep them in for about two hours. Check their dryness every 30 minutes after the first hour.
Fall weather is finally here in full force, and most gardens are on their last leg, if not already retired. Of course, the best way to keep herbs fresh is to pick them straight from the ground. But not all of us are blessed with a green thumb, and soon it will be too cold to grow herbs outside. Yes, it’s possible to keep a small indoor herb garden, but there isn’t much room in my little house, and it would pretty much be an exercise in futility to attempt to grow herbs in here at this time. So I thought this would be a great time to share how I store fresh herbs. This technique can be applied to store-bought herbs or herbs picked from your garden.
Tender vs. Hard
To know how to best store an herb, fist you have to determine if it’s tender or hard. Tender herbs have soft stems and leaves like, cilantro, parsley, and basil; tarragon also can fall into this category. Hard herbs have a woody stem, like rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano.
Some say not to wash herbs because it adds moisture, but the truth is, when you bring herbs home from the supermarket, they are already wet. It has been my experience that herbs do best when washed under cold water and spun in a salad spinner. Washing and spinning them removes any debris or germs that will feed decay. This is especially true for tender leafy herbs. If you do not have a salad spinner, it’s best not to wash the herbs until they are ready to use.
Keeping Herbs Fresh
Tender: Parsley, Cilantro, and Basil
After the herbs have been washed and spun in the salad spinner, trim the ends of the stems. Remove any wilted or browned leaves. Fill a glass or Mason jar with an inch of water. Place the herbs in the jar like a bouquet of flowers. To store parsley and cilantro, loosely cover with a resealable plastic bag or cling wrap. If using a large Mason jar or quart container, you can use the lid to cover the herbs. Store in the refrigerator. This technique also works well with tarragon, mint, and dill. To store basil, leave uncovered and place on the counter where the basil can get some sunlight. Change the water as needed or if it discolors.
Hard: Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram
Arrange the herbs lengthwise in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel. Loosely roll up the herbs and transfer to a resealable plastic bag or in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator. This technique also works well with sage, savory, and chives.
How Long to Store
If you follow the proper care, fresh herbs can last for up to three weeks. Below is a quick list of the most common herbs and their average life span. When the herbs start to turn dark, brittle or the stems show signs of mold, it’s time to toss them.
Parsley – 3 weeks
Dill – 3 weeks
Cilantro – 3 weeks
Mint – 2 weeks
Tarragon – 3 weeks
Basil – 2 weeks
Rosemary – 3 weeks
Oregano – 2 weeks
Thyme – 2 weeks
Sage – 2 weeks
Savory – 2 weeks
Chives – 1 week
There you have it! That’s all you need to know to keep those herbs fresh. If you are looking for a way to keep your herbs for a longer period of time, check out Gaby’s post on How to Preserve Herbs in Oil!
Meseidy (Meh-say-dee) is a wife and mother to three four-legged children (including an ornery Terrier). Graduate of Platt College Culinary Arts Institute. Landlocked Puerto Rican who must be within a five-mile radius of a plantain at all times. She works as a chef, recipe developer, caterer, event planner, and food stylist. She cooks and blogs from her tiny 250 sqft house in Dallas, TX. She created The Noshery in 2008 after realizing how much her husband and she missed the food back home in Puerto Rico. At The Noshery you’ll find recipes that are always from scratch, ideas inspired by my travels, and cooking techniques I’ve learned along my journey from home-cook to chef—plus some life misadventures, DIY and craft tips, and doggie shenanigans thrown in to keep you on your toes. Her dishes reflect her life as a former military brat with a pinch from here and dash from there. But Puerto Rico and its authentic cooking will always be home. She loves pairing interesting ingredients together and is always on a mission to create the perfect bite.
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Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- How long does fresh thyme last? The precise answer to that question depends to a large extent on storage conditions – after purchasing, keep thyme refrigerated at all times.
- To maximize the shelf life of fresh thyme in the refrigerator, wrap the thyme in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- How long does fresh thyme last in the fridge? Properly stored, fresh thyme will usually keep well for about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator.
- Can you freeze thyme? Yes, to freeze fresh thyme: (1) Wash, trim and chop the thyme; (2) Allow to dry thoroughly; (3) Once dry, place in heavy-duty freezer bags or freeze in ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags.
- How long does thyme last in the freezer? Properly stored, it will maintain best quality for about 4 to 6 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
- The freezer time shown is for best quality only – thyme that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.
- How to tell if thyme is bad or spoiled? Thyme that is spoiling will typically become soft and discolored; discard any thyme that has an off smell or appearance.
Sources: For details about data sources used for food storage information, please
Growing and Harvesting Thyme
Yesterday I posted a great post over at Growing Real Food that dives into Growing and Harvesting Thyme. I am not going to go into that in this post, so if growing thyme interest you please check out that post.
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs to grow and I use it often in my kitchen. It adds so much flavor to any dish! Thyme is so versatile and can be used in stews, stocks, homemade soups, lamb, tomatoes, and casseroles.
There is a certain way to learn how to remove leaves from thyme and today we are going to learn how.
How To Remove Leaves From Thyme
Once you harvest your thyme, there is a proper way to remove the leaves. The central stem is usually woody. It becomes woodier as it matures. It is important to remove this woody stem and to not cook with it.
To do this start by removing the smaller stems from the central stem. The smaller stems typically are not woody and can be chopped up with the leaves.
Now that you have the central stem fully exposed, place your fingers at the top of the stem and firmly slide the leaves down the woody stem. The leaves should easily come off.
Discard the woody stem and run a knife through the leaves. I usually like to chop mine just a little because I love large pieces of thyme in my dishes.
How To Use Dried Thyme and Fresh Thyme
You now are ready to cook with your fresh thyme. Remember if a recipe calls for 1 tsp of dried thyme you can replace it with 1 tbsp of fresh thyme. So for every teaspoon of dried thyme, you can use 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme.
If you prefer to use dried thyme, harvest your thyme in a large amount and tie off at the base of the stem so you are able to hang it upside down. Hang in a cool dry place for a week or two and allow to fully dry. Once fully dried, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container.
If you haven’t grown thyme before in your garden, why not give it a shot. It really is a simple process to learn about growing and harvesting thyme. It also grows really well in pots and would make for a nice indoor plant as well.
A Few of My Favorite Recipes With Thyme
Here are just a few of my favorite recipes that I like to use my thyme in! Click on the picture to go to recipe.
Rice PilafSummer ChiliButternut Squash Soup Garden Ratatouille
Do you like to cook with thyme? Do you grow thyme in your garden?
How to Chop Thyme
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. Its very distinctive taste goes really well with fish, chicken, pork, beef, and even a ton of vegetables and side dishes. Dried thyme has its uses, and I’ve always got a jar in the cabinet, but I’ll go to fresh thyme just as often. If you’re looking for a more subtle taste and/or you’re going to cook the thyme for just a few seconds (not giving the time the dried version needs to release it flavors) I suggest using the fresh stuff. Peeling the leaves off the stem can be a bit of a pain, as they are so delicate, but in this cooking video, I show you how to do it.
How to Clean Thyme
- For some uses (like a bouquet garni) you can use the entire thyme stem; but assuming you just want the leaves, you’ll want to follow the below steps, which are also shown in the video
- Removing the leaves is a bit tough because they are so small, and the stem can be very delicate, breaking away easily when trying to pull the leaves off
- To get them off, first determine in what direction they are growing. Like all leaves they’ll tend to grown up, towards the sunlight
- To remove them, hold the top of the stem between your thumb and forefinger
- Then with your other thumb/forefinger very gently grab the stem just below where you’re holding it, and slide your fingers downward
- The light pressure won’t be enough to break the stem, but it will be enough to peel away the leaves as you move down
- You should be left with a clean stem in one hand, and the leaves, separated on your cutting board
- Generally the leaves are so small I don’t even bother cutting them
Hope you find this useful.