Lemon Thyme: Meaning, Uses, Taste, Substitutes, Benefits

lemon thyme

There are different varieties of thymes used in cooking and herbal remedies. The two most common types of thymes cultivated or available in stores are common thyme and lemon thyme.

Lemon thyme is mostly used in recipes that call for lemon or lemon zest, including marinades.

This article looks into ‘what is lemon thyme’, its’ uses, taste, benefits, and substitutes.

What Is Lemon Thyme?

Lemon thyme is an aromatic seasoning herb in the mint family, botanically classified as Thymus citriodorus. This plant is a small, shrub-like herb with tiny leaves growing in clusters along multi-branched stems. It grows abundantly throughout the year in the rocky, arid mountains in the Mediterranean region.

This lemon-scented herb looks relatively identical to English thyme or garden thyme though they differ in taste and aroma. As for its nutritional benefits, it’s rich in iron, as well as vitamins C, B-Complex, and D. The major health benefits of lemon thyme are derived from the antioxidant and antiseptic properties richly found in this herb.

Where to buy lemon thyme? Both fresh and dried lemon thyme is available in supermarkets and most grocery stores throughout the year.

Fresh lemon thyme can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks. Dried lemon thyme can be stored in an airtight container and it has a shelf life of up to six months.

What Is Lemon Thyme Good For?

Lemon thyme’s benefits spring from the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are richly present in this herb. It’s a rich source of rare phenolic antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin, and luteolin.

Besides its several uses in cooking, the chemical compounds in lemon thyme are useful for treating conditions like:

Respiratory tract ailments: Thymol present in thyme helps in relieving whooping cough, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. Lemon thyme essential oil is used in aromatherapy to treat asthma.

Gastrointestinal issues: Extracts from the leaves and stems are a proven remedy for gastritis accompanied by indigestion or bloating.

Gingivitis: Lemon thyme is often used as an effective home remedy for dealing with gingivitis and other dental issues. The antibacterial and antifungal compounds in this herb prevent the microorganisms responsible for gingivitis.

What Does Lemon Thyme Taste Like?

Lemon thyme is endowed with natural compounds like thymol and limonene, the factors that decide its taste. It has a mild thyme flavor along with clear notes of lemon. The distinguishable feature of this herb is the citrusy flavor with a mild sweetness. Most people love lemon thyme for its lemon flavor the effectively masks the bitterness typically prominent in other varieties of thymes. Like the leaves, lemon thyme flowers also have the same flavor and aroma.

Lemon Thyme Uses In Cooking

Lemon thyme enjoys a prominent place in Mediterranean cooking. This herb is frequently used in dishes that call for lemon, lemon zest, or lemon juice. You can finely chop the lemon thyme leaves just before use, preferably use it towards the end of cooking as their flavor and aroma cannot withstand prolonged cooking.

This aromatic herb is a commonly used ingredient added to vegetables, poultry, seafood, stews, soups, sauces, marinades, and stuffing. Often, fresh springs of thyme are used as a garnish.

Use it in marinades for fish and chicken or a citrusy take on roasted potatoes. Fresh leaves can be added to green salads or in herbal blends like bouquet garnish to be used in stocks and soups. Often, Lemon thyme is included in Herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs popular in the Provence region of France. It also goes well with shortbread cookies and cones or infuse the fresh leaves into vinegar, ice creams, or smoothies.

Lemon Thyme Vs Thyme

Lemon thyme and common thyme (also known as English thyme, summer thyme, winter thyme, French thyme, or garden thyme) are two popular varieties of thyme that are frequently used in cooking.  Both of them are the same from the appearance point of view but distinctively dissimilar in aroma and taste.

Regular thyme has a mild flavor with an earthy, minty, and floral taste. Its subtle flavor does not overwhelm other ingredients and thus a very useful herb in cooking, especially in Mediterranean dishes. Whereas, lemon thyme has a strong lemony taste and aroma suitable for dishes that require a citrusy flavor. Another notable difference is the absence of bitterness in lemon thyme that is otherwise common to most varieties of thymes.

What Is A Good Lemon Thyme Substitute?

The availability of lemon thyme remains quite scarce in most regions outside the Mediterranean. If you don’t have lemon thyme required for your recipe, use one of the lemon thyme substitutes listed below.

1. Lemon zest and thyme

A combination of lemon zest and common thyme is the finest alternative to lemon thyme. This blend recreates the replica of lemon thyme by rendering a lemony flavor with the earthy, woody notes of common thyme. Besides the taste and aroma, even the appearance becomes identical to the original herb. Use one part for lemon zest and 3 parts of common thyme to replace the lemon thyme required in your recipe.

2. Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is frequently used in European and Latin American cuisines. This herb, a species of flowering plant in the verbena family Verbenaceae, offers a strong lemony aroma and flavor with a delicious floral note. Like lemon thyme, it’s a versatile ingredient that incorporates well into most dishes that call for lemon. Often, lemon verbena infused olive oil or vinegar is commonly used in cooking. Use finely chopped verbena leaves in dishes. Some prefer to use the whole leaves like bay leaves and then remove them before serving your dish out. As a substitute, use lemon verbena equal to half the portion of lemon thyme required in the recipe, or else your dish might become overwhelmingly pungent and lemony. 

3. Lemongrass

Lemongrass, originating from Southeast Asia, is a well-utilized ingredient in Asian cooking. The pale yellow-green stalks deliver a tart lemony taste and aromatic citrus scent to your dish with noticeable undertones of ginger and mint. Use the finely chopped fresh stalks or dried and powdered lemongrass to substitute lemon thyme.

4. Lemon Balm

If you are using lemon thyme exclusively for the lemon scent in your dish, lemon balm could do the same as well. Use it in the same way as you use lemon verbena in cooking. As a substitute for lemon thyme, lemon balm could be used in most recipes that call for a lemony flavor and aroma.

5. Sage

In times of emergency, sage could be a worthy substitute for lemon thyme. The predominantly minty and peppery taste of sage has a subtle hint of lemon. Importantly, sage is a versatile ingredient that would easily fit into most recipes that include lemon thyme. Use it in equally half the amount of lemon thyme required in your dish. Too much sage will definitely make your dish taste overly minty and peppery.

The Bottom Line

Lemon thyme grows and looks like common garden thyme but it smells and tastes like lemon. Leaves of this shrub-like small herb are used in recipes calling for lemon juice or lemon zest. The best substitutes for lemon thyme are a blend of lemon zest and common thyme, and other ones include lemon verbena, lemongrass, and lemon balm.

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