What is thyme?
The intense aroma of thyme is unmissable in traditional chicken stuffing. It adds a robust kick of flavour when added to red wine, garlic and oil and used as a base for rich, slow-cooked casseroles and stews. Thyme is one of the key ingredients in Herbes de Provence, used to flavour grilled fish and meat. It is also included in bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs that is used to flavour stocks and soups.
Thyme is believed to have first been cultivated about 5,000 years ago by the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), who used it as a disinfectant and anti-fungal treatment.
The ancient Greeks and Romans gave it to their warriors to provide them with courage and strength when they went into battle. The ancient Greeks burnt thyme in their temples as incense and grew it to provide nectar for honeybees for the wild thyme-scented honey made on Mount Hymettus, which is still made today. The ancient Romans used thyme to flavour cheese and liquor and introduced the herb to the British Isles.
Nowadays, thyme is used extensively in Mediterranean and French cooking and it can be found growing wild on hillsides and cliffs in the Mediterranean region. In Australia, it is most commonly used to add flavour to roast meats and as stuffing for poultry.
In Australia, thyme is not sold by variety. There are a number of different cultivars of thyme but the most common varieties available are common thyme, lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) and caraway thyme (Thymus herba-barona).
Common thyme has a peppery flavour and small, pointed, grey-green leaves, whereas lemon thyme has dark green leaves that are rounder. This variety has a lemon smell and flavour. Caraway thyme has brownish-green leaves and a strong sweet-spicy, slightly peppery smell (similar to caraway seeds).
Why thyme is good to eat
- Thyme contains vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), B6 (which is involved in the production of red blood cells and regulation of nerve function) and C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body).
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function), calcium and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Thyme contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of thyme supplies 423 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Thyme is an evergreen plant that dies down (or becomes dormant) in winter. It grows slowly from seed. Generally, thyme is grown from cuttings obtained from other thyme plants or by dividing the roots when the plant is dormant and planting them. Thyme plants grow best in a sunny position.
The plant grows to about 20 cm and, once established, it spreads to about 30 cm. It has woody stems with small, grey-green leaves. Different varieties of thyme produce flowers of different colours. For example, common and lemon thyme develop pink flowers, whereas caraway thyme has pink-to-purple-coloured flowers.
Thyme leaves have the most flavour just before the plant blooms. Harvest the leaves by snipping the stems or picking individual leaves. Removing the flowers encourages new leaf growth.
Choose thyme with fresh-looking green leaves. Avoid bunches with yellow or black leaves.
How to store and keep thyme
Store thyme wrapped in a paper towel in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. It will keep for up to a week if stored this way.
You can dry fresh thyme by hanging the bunch upside down to dry. When the bunch is dry, store the entire bunch in an airtight container.
How to use
- Try slow-roasted tomatoes – toss halved Roma tomatoes and wedges of red onion with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and thyme leaves, then roast before scattering with extra thyme leaves and serving alongside meat or seafood.
- Make delicious lamb cutlets – coat lamb cutlets in a mixture of finely chopped thyme, garlic, lemon zest and juice and olive oil, then grill, top with more of the thyme mixture and serve with crunchy new potatoes and a green leaf salad.
- Serve individual mushroom and leek tarts – fry garlic, chopped leeks and sliced mushrooms with sprigs of thyme, then add the mixture to pre-cooked puff pastry cases, top with rocket leaves, feta cheese, pine nuts and finely chopped thyme and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and oil dressing before serving.
- Enjoy a simple asparagus dish – fry onion and add a splash of white wine, then add asparagus spears, fresh thyme leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice and when cooked serve with chicken or fish.
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Better Health Channel
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