With the increasing popularity of Mediterranean food and the ease of growing this herb in a temperate climate, thyme has become probably the most popular herb in British cooking in recent years. It's indispensible in the professional kitchen, where we are likely to use multiple varieties.
Common thyme plants
Lemon thyme plants
Spanish thyme plants
Wild thyme plants
Sprig of thyme
|Species:||Thymus vulgaris, t. serpyllum, t. drucei, t. zygis, t. citriodorus.|
The herb is much cultivated in Eastern and Southern Europe, in North Africa and also in the US.
Leaves, in both fresh and dried forms. Frequently, the whole herb (leaves plus stem) is sold as fresh or dried sprigs.
Lamiaceae (mint family).
The name "thyme" is borrowed from Latin thymus, which goes back to Greek thymon "thyme". The Greek plant name is associated with thymos "spirit", originally meaning "smoke" (related to Latin fumus "smoke", cf. "perfume") and the verb thyein "smoke", "cure" or "offer an incense sacrifice". The reference is probably the strong, smoky odour of thyme. There is also another, unrelated explanation that the Greek name comes from Old Egyptian tham, which denoted a plant used in the mummification process.
Most European languages have related names deriving from Latin thymus, e.g. German thymian, Italian timo, Finnish timjami, Estonian tüümian, Dutch tijm, Russian timyan, Greek thimari and Hebrew timin.
In some Balto-Slavic tongues there are a group of unrelated names reminiscent of local designations for savory, namely Romanian cimbru, Lithuanian čiobreliai and Russian chabrets. Names in Slavonic languages, exemplified by Czech mateřídouška and Bulgarian mashterka, appear to derive from a local term for "mother", but the derivation is uncertain.
English "creeping thyme" and Swedish kryptimian both refer to the shrub's creeping shape. A similar derivation lies behind French serpolet, Italian serpillo, Basque txerpol and others all of which originate via Latin serpullum from the Greek plant name herpyllos, which in turn is related to Greek herpein and Latin serpere "creep" (cf. serpent, literally "the creeping one"). The botanical species name serpyllum is a compromise between the Greek and Latin forms.
In the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, no clear distinction is often made between aromatic herbs of the mint family, with names like Turkish kekik, Arabic zatar/satar and relations in Hebrew and Persian (often in conjunction with qualifying or descriptive adjectives) applied to a variety of native herbs including oregano, marjoram, savoryand thyme. In Jordan, zahtar usually means a spice mixture containing such herbs. The wild thyme found in England is generally not t. serpyllum, but related species t. drucei (common wild thyme).
Species name vulgaris is Latin for "common".
Thyme is an important spice of European cuisines, especially in Southern Europe. It is ubiquitous in French cuisine, where fresh branches of thyme, tied up into bundles together with other fresh herbs, are added to soups, sauces and stews and removed before serving (bouquet garni).
Dried thyme is also a part of herbes de Provence, a spice mixture from Provence in Southern France. Thyme is also popular in non-European parts of the Mediterranean. The Jordanian condiment zahtar contains thyme as a vital aroma. Another example is dukka, a typical spice mixture of Egypt, which is a slightly salted combination of roasted sesame, roasted hazelnut, coriander, cumin, black pepper and thyme, predominantly used to flavour meat. Egyptian white bread eaten together with olive oil and dukka gives a very simple, but delicious meal.
In Central Europe, thyme is most used for soups, fish, meat, poultry and eggs. Thyme (particularly lemon thyme) is a great addition to herbal vinegar. Industrially, thyme is often combined with marjoram for sausages and it goes well with bay leaves or boldo leaves. Cheese is sometimes flavoured with thyme.
In Britain, thyme is today probably the most popular and widely used culinary herb. It also plays an important role in the cooking of the United States, particularly of the East Coast. The Creole cuisine of New Orleans is particularly famous for its extensive use of thyme. Thyme's popularity extends even further South to Central American cuisine. Jerk, the most famous culinary export item of Jamaica, often contains thyme.
Fresh thyme is not only less intensive than dried thyme, but it has a softer flavour, is less smoky and fits perfectly to Mediterranean ratatouille or fish. Dried thyme, on the other hand, has a dominating smokiness that goes best in spicy foods, particularly meats.