Thyme is a popular and very aromatic herb grown in Europe and is related to mint. There are numerous different varieties of thyme. It provides a sweet and earthy flavor to many dishes, and is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. Thyme can be used to flavor lamb, pork and game and has the benefit of being able to withstand long cooking times. As a result, it is often used in pasta sauces as well. It is an important ingredient in classic dishes like coq au vin and osso bucco.
As it is a well-known and widely used herb, most serious cooks will keep a bottle on their spice rack. However, you may have run out of thyme or it may just not be something that you thought you would ever need. If you are looking for a substitute, the good news is that (as with most ingredients) there is a multitude of good options.
Your Best Bet: Italian Seasoning
This is your going to be your most solid option for a thyme alternative since it actually contains thyme. Italian seasoning is a mix of herbs that are commonly used in Italian dishes. If you find yourself without thyme, Italian seasoning should work almost as well as thyme on its own since the herbs it contains are excellent complements for thyme and work well in most dishes that require it.
A Decent Second Choice: Marjoram and Parsley
While other herbs may not be able to replicate thyme’s unique flavor perfectly, you can use a combination of them to simulate it. Marjoram is another member of the mint family and so is similar in some respects. However, you should bear in mind that unlike thyme, it cannot stand up to long cooking. If you are going to be braising for a long time, you may want to add it towards the end of cooking or the heat will destroy its milder flavor. The flavor of marjoram is sweet and is sometimes described as being similar to oregano; in fact, oregano is also called wild marjoram. By combining it with parsley, you can make an effective thyme substitute. Parsley is usually used as a garnish and provides a mild flavor that will not have a negative effect on the taste of the dish but may give it a greenish tint. When using marjoram and parsley you will want to add 1 teaspoon of marjoram and 1/2 teaspoon of parsley for every teaspoon of thyme that the recipe requires.
In a Pinch: Tarragon
Tarragon is considered by some to have a similar flavor to thyme. You can use this as a thyme substitute in dishes that contain fish or chicken. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of thyme, you would add a teaspoon of tarragon instead.
Other common herbs that you can substitute for thyme include oregano and basil. These are all included in Italian seasoning and along with thyme give it its flavor. Rosemary is also widely suggested as a good alternative to thyme, especially when cooking dishes that contain either pork or lamb. However, you should note that rosemary has a very strong distinctive flavor that can easily overpower other seasonings. If you do try this option, you will need to add a 3/4 teaspoon of rosemary for every teaspoon of thyme that the recipe requires.