Dried thyme is an herb that is commonly added to meats, marinades, and just about any dish that needs seasoning. Fresh thyme and dried thyme can generally be used interchangeably, although in different proportions. Dried thyme can be made at home from fresh sprigs. It is also widely available in grocery stores and specialty spice stores.
Thyme is a staple of many European and North African foods. It is an indigenous herb of the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Greece and from Morocco to Tunisia. Thyme typically has a long growing season in these warmer climates, but it is not a perennial. Drying thyme in the summer allows it to be saved and stored for the winter, so cooking with thyme is a possibility all year round.
Home cooks and gardeners can dry thyme in small batches quite easily. Thyme usually grows on tall stalk-like stalks, which should be cut back near their base just before the plants flower, usually in late summer. Gardeners should tie the stems upside down and then hang them in a cool, dark place to dry for up to two weeks. Low-temperature baking or toasting can achieve similar results in less time.
Cooks can follow the same drying method for store-bought thyme. A person who does not grow their own thyme can often find fresh sprigs for sale in the produce section of their supermarket. Most of the time, prepackaged thyme contains more sprigs than are needed for a single recipe. Rather than discard excess thyme, many cooks choose to dry it to preserve it for future use.
Once dry, the stems can be stored in airtight containers for later use or, more commonly, the individual leaves can be removed, crushed, and stored. Thyme stalks are edible, but they don’t have much flavor and are often difficult to chew. The leaves are the only parts of the thyme plant that are used for cooking.
Dried thyme is also often available for sale pre-dried. In most of the world, thyme has become a ubiquitous kitchen herb, and dried thyme is a staple of the spice rack in most stores. Most commercially prepared thyme is dried in large dehydrators. Cooks who are serious about drying herbs can often purchase dehydrators for home use, although these can be quite expensive.
In most cases, cooks can substitute dried thyme in recipes that call for fresh thyme. If the thyme has been recently dried, its flavor is likely to be quite strong. However, in dried form, it takes up less space, meaning that equal measures of fresh thyme and dried thyme can actually contain different amounts of the herb. Most of the time, cooks use about half as much dried thyme as they would use fresh. Adjustments may need to be made for thyme that has been dried a long time ago or has been on the shelf for quite some time, as the intensity of the flavor dissipates over time.