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Thyme: small leaves with a big taste
Thyme suits almost everything from meat, fish or vegetables to desserts and cakes. The herb is not only a common sighting in a Mediterranean kitchen, but worldwide too.
The list of excellent dishes featuring thyme is a lengthy one that ranges from sausage products to vegetarian dishes with tomatoes, and even ice cream. The earthy-tasting thyme tea is popular for its medicinal qualities that supposedly help against colds and aid digestion after a rich meal.
In the Mediterranean region, thyme is just as popular as herbs like basil, lavender and oregano. The small evergreen shrub has tiny green leaves with light pink to violet blossoms. The thyme plant also grows in northern countries and the leaves can be eaten both fresh and dried. Its taste is similar to marjoram – slightly tart and minty. Like most herbs, there are a few varieties of the thyme plant; one popular variety is the citrus thyme which, as the name suggests, has notes of citrus.
|Class||mint family (lamiaceae)|
|Contents||tyhmol, potassium, calcium|
|Season||May - September|
|Storage||refrigerate fresh; store dried in sealed container in cool, dark place|
|Shelf life||fresh up to 2 weeks; dried 1-2 years|
Thyme has been a popular herb since the antiquity. Its exact origins are not entirely clear but it’s supposed home is the Mediterranean region. In the Middle Ages, thyme was thought to be a source of courage, as suggested by its name; the word thyme probably comes from the Greek word “thymos” which means “courage” or “strength”.
The plant itself is very low maintenance – it can grow in barren soil as well as on a balcony or windowsill in a flower pot. If you have a large quantity of thyme, you can either freeze the leftovers or dry it – drying intensifies the flavour. The time of harvest also determines how strong the herb’s flavour is; if picking it at home, do so right before it blossoms for maximum flavour.
Aside from the root, you can use almost all of the thyme plant for seasoning. However, the thyme leaves are most commonly used and, unlike the stems, do not have to be removed before serving. Thyme is a large component of many herb mixes such as Fines Herbes, Bouquet Garni and Herbes de Provence. It is particularly well loved in the French cuisine and often used in heavy and rich dishes or with legumes because of its digestive properties.
If you begin to experiment with thyme, perhaps try combining it with dishes that call for tomatoes, garlic, aubergines or courgette – all of which go very well with thyme. You could also try replacing marjoram or rosemary with it, or better yet, you could combine all three herbs for multi-faceted flavour.
For a quick and easy dessert, grill some peaches with some thyme leaves and rosemary sprigs. Simply slice the peach in half, remove the stone and coat both halves with honey, thyme and rosemary. Pop them under the grill for five minutes and then serve with a scoop of ice cream.
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