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Substitutes for Thyme – What Can I Use Instead?

Thyme (sounds as “time”) is a low shrub of the mint family widely used in the Mediterranean, French, British, Caribbean, African, Latin, and American dishes. Its spear-shaped leaves are green with long and thin sprigs. 

The history of the use of thyme can be traced during ancient times. In Egypt, thyme was used in embalming rituals as a potent antiseptic. The Romans serve as a symbol of bravery and strength in terms of military prowess. And during the middle ages, it was used as an antiseptic in treating skin lesions caused by the black death. 

There are two market forms of thyme: fresh, dried, and ground. The use of thyme is commonly seasoned in meat, potato, seafood, and vegetable dishes, stocks, soups, stews, fresh bread, sauces, and marinades.

Fresh thyme has a distinct earthy and strong herby flavor with a fragrant touch of mint and citrus. The strong point of thyme is that it can withstand long hours of cooking. This is because the thyme stems are fibrous, and it doesn’t easily break when cooked. Plus, the longer that it is cooked, the more of its flavor comes out. 

Distinct pungent and minty flavor or thyme is complicated to copy. No herb around the world that tastes precisely like thyme. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to abandon your dish for the lack of thyme. If your dish can stand without the use of thyme, just simply skip it. If not, worry no more because there are common herbs that can work as an alternative for thyme and still make your dish delicious. 

Best substitutes for Thyme – A complete Guide

1. Marjoram

marjoram 1

Like thyme, marjoram is also a part of the mint family used in many kinds of dishes. Sometimes, it is mistaken as oregano because of its taste and aroma. Actually, they’re different from each other. Marjoram has a sweet and lemony taste, while oregano leaves taste minty and savory.

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The fresh marjoram leaves have more flavor compared to the dried ones. But, cooking fresh marjoram leaves may lose its flavor. This explains why it is recommended to add the leaves a few minutes before removing it from the heat.

Marjoram is best used as a seasoning for meat dishes, and it can also be added to vegetable dishes. It also works well in tomato-based recipes. 

Though marjoram does not exactly taste like thyme, it can still work as a substitute and add savor to your food. 

2. Italian Seasoning

italian mix

The creation of this spice did not actually start in Italy. It originated from the Mediterranean region.

Guess what? Thyme is one of the dried herbs in Italian seasoning. Besides thyme, the Italian seasoning is made of basil, marjoram, oregano, and rosemary. Some Italian seasoning products also add sage, garlic, salt, and black pepper into the mix.

If you don’t mind a blend of other spices, you might discover a more exciting taste with the use of Italian seasoning. A pinch of Italian seasoning will give your dish an Italian twist. 

3. Summer Savory

summer savory 1

Summer savory is an essential ingredient in the many Mediterranean and Roman dishes. Historically, it is used as an aphrodisiac or as medicine for bee stings.

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It tastes savory, spicy, minty, with a kick of marjoram and thyme. That’s why it lives with its name because it makes a dish taste savory and herby. This herb can serve as a good substitute for thyme when you’re preparing meat, fish, chicken, stews, chowder, soups, or bean dishes. 

You need to crush summer savory by hand or pounding it using a mortar and pestle to release the flavor. 

To substitute thyme with summer savory, use a 1:1 proportion of dried savory; 2:1 for fresh summer savory.

4. Bay leaf

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Bay leaves or bay laurel leaves belong to the laurel family. It’s an evergreen shrub that grows in areas with warm climates. In cooking, dried, thick and elongated pointy bay laurel leaves are usually used to give flavor and aroma. The dried leaves hold more character compared to the fresh leaves.

Bay laurel leaves are often removed after cooking. Some don’t remove it from the prepared dish to add more presentation. People don’t eat the leaves because of its leathery texture, and it does not soften during the cooking process. It is seen as a food hazard with its pointy leaves, which can cause choking, and it can even cut the mouth or slice down through the digestive tract.

Add bay leaves at the moment you begin cooking. The longer it stays in the cooking process, the more time you allow its flavor to be released and be infused in the dish like soups, stews, or stuffed poultry.

For every ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme, substitute it with 1 dried bay leaf. 

5. Zahtar


Zahtar or za’ataris is a spice hailed from the Middle East as a blend of dried thyme, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, ground sumac, and salt. The proportion of these ingredients that makes up this spice varies from the flavor preferences per region, ranging from nutty to tangy to herbal or salty.

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This Middle Eastern spice is usually mixed with olive oil, and it is used as spreads for breakfast flatbreads. Other uses of this spice are meat, chicken, and vegetable dishes, pizza, potatoes, thick yogurt cheese, or a topping for fried eggs. 

So, for every 1 teaspoon of thyme, use ½ teaspoon of zahtar spice. Most likely, your dish will taste nutty because of the sesame seeds and lemony because of the sumac.

6. Tarragon

tarragon plant

The tarragon plant may look like the thyme, but they both differ in taste. Tarragon is considered a suitable substitute for thyme only that its flavor is sort of sweet and slightly bitter.

You can use tarragon on meat, chicken, or fish dishes. A teaspoon of thyme is equal to one teaspoon of tarragon

7. Sage

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Sage, just like thyme, also belongs in the mint family. It’s an evergreen shrub which leaves are gray-green in color and oval in shape. The other names for this herb are garden sage, kitchen sage, or Salvia officinalis.

This herb possesses a strong herby aroma and notes of earthy flavor and adds warmth to dishes. The use of the sage herb is famous for Thanksgiving stuffing. Sage is best suited in meat and chicken dishes, soups, and creamy sauces. 

To replace thyme with sage, use ½ teaspoon of sage for every 1 teaspoon of thyme. Add sparingly in your dish until you get the flavor you want.

8. Herbes de Provence

herbes de provence

Herbes de Provence started in the Provence region of southeast France. This seasoning is a blend of dried rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, basil, marjoram, savory, and lavender flowers.

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Imagine that exciting fusion of different herbs in one mixture. It will be perfect for your dish, giving it a herby and savory flavor. Most notably, it can bring out the flavors of chicken, pork, beef, and potato dishes. Herbes de Provence is also best suited for vegetable-based soups and sauces. 

Since it has thyme in it, it can serve as an excellent alternative for your missing thyme. Use a 1:1 proportion if you want to replace thyme with Herbes de Provence.

9. Oregano

oregano 2

Oregano is a common herb with an intense fragrance with a bold earthy, minty, and lemony flavors.

Bear in mind that oregano’s flavor is more robust than thyme. This is why you have to add it sparingly to your dish. Use this as a thyme substitute if you are cooking tomato-based meals, sauces, and shrimp salads. 

For every 1 teaspoon of thyme, replace it with ¾ teaspoon of oregano. 

10. Rosemary

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Rosemary is a fragrant native evergreen bush plant with needle-like leaves and blue, white, purple, or pink flowers. It’s a native plant in the Mediterranean region. It is often used as a seasoning for stews, meats like pork, lamb, and poultry, potatoes, lentils, and beans. These are also chopped to give flavor to biscuits and bread.

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Before using it, you need to wash the fresh rosemary sprigs under cold water and pat it dry. Fresh rosemary can last until one week if stored properly. 

If you want to replace thyme with rosemary, use ¾ teaspoon for every 1 teaspoon of thyme. 

11. Basil

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Same with thyme, basil is also part of the mint family. It’s a herb that is essential in Italian cuisine and the main ingredient for making traditional pesto. Basil has a sweet fragrance with a peppery flavor. This is best suited tomato-based dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, and shrimp salads, and sauces.

Use a 1:1 substitute for dried thyme would be appropriate. 

12. Poultry seasoning

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If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you do not have to worry about using this seasoning because of its name. Yes, it’s safe to say that poultry seasoning is vegan because it only consists of a combination of spices like thyme, sage, savory, rosemary, black pepper, marjoram, and nutmeg. It’s called poultry seasoning not because it has poultry, but also for season poultry food products.

You can swap thyme using poultry seasoning. Just replace 1 teaspoon of thyme with 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning. 

Take Away

If you find yourself in a desperate need for thyme, you do not have to panic because there are herbs and spices options that can serve as an alternative for thyme. 

It is vital that you just need to learn and understand the potential uses of each herbal ingredient. Somehow, it may require your experimentation to figure which among the herbs will work best when you’re out of thyme. 

Remember that no substitute can copy the characteristics of thyme. Therefore, we recommend that you add in small amounts of herbs and spices at a time. Taste and feel how it affects the flavor of your dish.

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