Thyme and rosemary are both popular herbs found on almost any spice rack and grown by many gardeners. However, which one is the easiest to take care of? Which one will give the best flavor in a recipe?
Despite both rosemary and thyme belong to the mint family, they are two different herbs. Rosemary has longer leaves than thyme and a bitter taste. Dried rosemary contains fewer calories than thyme and they are both great additions to steak recipes.
Now, thyme and rosemary may both belong to the mint family. Still, there are significant differences when it comes to appearance and taste. Along with understanding the differences, you might be wondering if you can substitute these herbs for each other.
Thyme and rosemary are two of the most common herbs and are frequently used in stews and meat dishes but for different reasons. They both belong to the Lamiaceae family, but they are two different genera (Salvia for rosemary and Thymus for thyme).
Thyme vs Rosemary
Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus) is a woody herb with evergreen foliage. The plant can reach up to five or six feet tall (1.8m) and spread four feet wide (1.2m). It is a bushy plant with green, needle-like leaves. Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) is a way smaller plant. It typically only reaches 6 to 12 inches tall (30cm) and up to 16 inches (40cm) wide.
Rosemary flowers are small and often with five white, purple, blue, or deep purple petals. Rosemary flowers grow in small bunches at the end of a stem, and they have a shape that reminds lips, so the name of lipped flowers. They appear in spring and summer. Indoor rosemary plants may bloom outside the normal flowering season, with some plants producing flowers even in December with the appropriate temperature and light (probably artificial).
Thyme flowers are usually pink or purple, with four petals. They appear in small clusters. They appear in the early summer, and their petals are slightly larger than those of rosemary, as discussed here.
Rosemary and thyme stems can get both woody once they grow sufficiently.
Rosemary leaves are up to 1.8 inches long (around 4cm), dark green, and needle-like. Thyme leaves are extremely small. They do not grow longer than 0.2 inches (5 mm). The thyme you find in supermarkets (called Thymus vulgaris, as there are many species) has leaves that are typically oval and thicker than many other common herbs (such as basil or cilantro). The leaves are by far the easiest way to understand if you are looking at thyme or rosemary.
Despite thyme and rosemary match well together as frequently used with the same food pairings, these herbs offer different flavors and aromas.
Rosemary has a strong, pungent flavor. It is also slightly resinous and bitter. The powerful taste and woodsy, piney aroma can easily overpower the flavors of a dish.
Thyme has a subtle, savory flavor that helps bring out the flavors of the dish. You may also notice notes of mint and lemon (depending on the type) that you cannot perceive in rosemary.
While the overall flavors are different, thyme and rosemary both have slightly peppery undertones.
Recipes with Rosemary and Thyme
Rosemary and thyme are often used in meat dishes such as roast beef and pork. Both herbs also work well with beans, cabbage, poultry, soups, and stews. When using either herb, the dried or fresh leaves are generally added, not from the beginning of the cooking process.
Rosemary and thyme are decent substitutes for each other, but here is the catch! When replacing rosemary for thyme, use slightly less than what the recipe calls for (I usually go for 2g of rosemary to replace 3g of thyme suggested by the recipe). In general, if you can, just avoid replacing one for the other. The plate, even if you follow this adjustment, will taste different. It will not be bad at all, but it will be different.
Avoid mixing fresh and dry herbs as they taste quite different. If the recipes call for fresh herbs and you do not have them, just replace all of them with their dry version (you can find quite often on the spice shelves in the supermarket). A common rule of thumb: 1g of dry herbs replace 3g of fresh ones.
You can literally find dozens of recipes that use thyme and rosemary at the same time. Indeed, such herbs are a great combo in a large variety of dishes. However, if I have to choose, I would definitely recommend the following three recipes. Some of them are really easy, while others are more challenging and ideal for a night indoor of experimenting and spending time with your other half or friends. Here we go!
I love salmon. It is tasty, a source of vitamin and healthy omega 3 fatty acids. However, many might be scared by the difficulty in preparing it. Nothing can be easier in this case. Here the steps:
- Place a chunk of fresh salmon inside an aluminum foil with a juice of lemon, thyme, rosemary, garlic salt, and pepper.
- Close the foil but leave some air pocket between the foil and the salmon.
- Place the salmon in the oven for 20 minutes at 400F (200C).
When in the oven, some air pockets will be created. This will allow the steam from the lemon juice (infused with the thyme and rosemary) to penetrate the salmon flesh giving an amazing flavor. Those air pockets are really the only trick for the success of this simple but effective recipe.
Check the recipe here for full details if interested or the below video for a step by step process (thyme is not included in the video, but the preparation process is the same)
Crispy potatoes flavored with thyme and rosemary are a great side for a good steak. This recipe is relatively simple and very aromatic. What you need is just a few potatoes (preferably red) salt, pepper, oil, and dry rosemary and thyme.
The process is quite straightforward.
- Cut the potatoes in cubes (around 1cm) and place them in a bowl.
- Add a few tablespoons of oil. The purpose here is to create a nice coating that will allow the seasoning to equally spread and give a good flavor. We do not want to soak them!
- Add the garlic finely chopped to the potatoes with a pinch of salt and pepper. I usually add a bit less of what I think is needed. Indeed, I can always recover later in adding while if you add too much after, there is not you can do. Here where many people get the recipe wrong! Do not add rosemary and thyme at the beginning. You risk burning them, making your dish tasteless.
- Place the potato on an aluminum tray evenly spread and leave in the oven until the edges are brown (but not the whole potato). My oven takes around 25 min at 400F, but it might change depending on yours.
- Once out of the oven, you can season with herbs and again a bit of salt and pepper (just taste them to check if they are fine). Now, after such thyme, you can add the rosemary and thyme on your hot potatoes (with some pepper and salt).
For more, check the video below (this one is my favorite as the process is clearly explained although they do not use thyme).
Chicken is by far one of the most common (and cheapest) poultry in the USA and many EU countries. It is rich in protein, versatile. Hence, knowing how to prepare it properly is a great plus that will allow you to impress your friends with little effort (and money).
This recipe is slightly complicated, but, at the same time, a restaurant level recipe. Here, quickly the step to check if does it suits wit you
- Cover the chicken breast in olive oil with salt and pepper (avoid smoking oil)
- Place the chicken breast on a hot pan (possible oven compatible for later) and drop fresh rosemary and thyme (in tiny pieces) on top for around 5 min (2-3 mins for each side)
- Place the chick in the oven (place in a try if the pan is not oven compatible) at 370F (190C) convention for 10-15 minutes
- After taking out of the oven, place some butter and lemon juice on the still-hot pan (mustard if you want)
- Enjoy your plate after it cools a bit (5 minutes)
This topic deserves a totally separate discussion. Indeed, both herbs (fresh, not dried) are quite used for steak, but which one is the best. It all boils down to personal taste. However, I found more consensus for one herb than the other.
According to many readers on Reddit, rosemary is sometimes way too strong and can overpower the steak flavor. So, for such reasons, they do recommend thyme as with a milder flavor.
This is also aligned with what Gordon Ramsay does and shows in the video below. He is using thyme for the “perfect steak.”
He uses around 5 fresh thyme stems for 2 steaks. Remember to not burn the herb. It should be added at halfway of the cooking process.
What is the most nutritious, rosemary, or thyme?
Check the table below with the most important information from the Self Nutrition Data Database for 100 grams of fresh Rosemary and Thyme.
|Vitamin A (% recommended daily need)||58||98|
|Vitamin C (% recommended daily need)||36||267|
|Calcium (% recommended daily need)||32||41|
|Iron (% recommended daily need)||37||97|
Thyme is way richer in Vitamin A and C compared to rosemary. Thyme has double the amount of Vitamin A and almost 10 times the amount of Vitamin C compared to rosemary. Moreover, thyme has a lower calories content due to its limited fat content (a third compared to rosemary).
Hence, what is the take away here?
If you want to increase your vitamin content and watch out for calories, go for thyme.
What about the nutrition facts of their dried version?
Below you can find a table for 100g of dried rosemary and thyme. This is useful so you can compare how much more “dense” is the dry version compared to the fresh one. However, for your recipes, you are not going to use 100g of dried herbs! Remember that a teaspoon is usually 3g.
|Calories (kCal)||330 (10)||276 (8)|
|Carbohydrates (g)||64 (2)||64 (2)|
|Fat (g)||15 (0.5)||7.4 (0.2)|
|Protein (g)||4.9 (0.15)||9.1 (0.3)|
|Vitamin A (% recommended daily need)||63 (2)||76 (2.5)|
|Vitamin C (% recommended daily need)||102 (3)||83 (2.5)|
|Calcium (% recommended daily need)||128 (4)||189 (5.7)|
|Iron (% recommended daily need)||162 (5.5)||687 (20.8)|
What is the take away here?
Dry herbs are still a significant source of vitamin, although they might lack Vitamin A compared to their fresh version. As a rule of thumb for thyme and rosemary, every 3 grams of fresh herbs can be replaced with 1g of their dry counterpart!
You have a large pot hanging around, and you were thinking of growing some Rosemary and Thyme on it? Should you do it?
The good news is that rosemary and thyme can grow well together. They have very similar light and water requirements.
However, you need to be careful: their size can be an issue!
Indeed, rosemary can grow much taller compared to thyme and requires more space. If you remember the appearance section, rosemary can grow up to 6 feet (almost 2m) against the 12 inches (30cm) of more bush-like thyme.
The video below shows how to plant multiple herbs in a container
How far should you place thyme and rosemary in the container?
When growing thyme and rosemary together, select a wide container and space the plants (or seeds) about 16 inches apart (40cm). The container should also have drainage holes.
Use a standard potting mix. Do not know which one? Check the article below on by best potting mix pick.
Place the container in a spot with indirect sunlight. The plants should receive five hours of light per day. Ideally, you want the room where this container is placed to have a temperature between 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 21). However, rosemary and thyme can survive easily with anything between 70 and 80F (21 to 26C).
Both herbs will grow well with moderate watering.
My personal tip: let the soil dry between watering for one day so to be sure to not overwater. Both thyme and rosemary can withstand lack of water (they are not sensitive like basil).
If you want to check the moisture level effectively, remember the finger-test!
Just stick your index finger two joints down the soil (a bit far from the plant to avoid damaging the roots). If the soil is moist that you do not need water, otherwise if the finger comes out dry, that’s the moment for watering. Once you do it a couple of times, you get synchronized with your herbs for a couple of months.
Indeed, do not forget that seasonal temperature and sunlight changes affect the water requirement of your herbs. During winter (colder and darker), your thyme and rosemary will need way less water (and fertilizer) than in summer. Fail to remember than and your herbs will suffer.
Thyme and rosemary are easily propagated from cuttings. Read the detailed photo guide below for propagation through cutting
Propagation by cutting for those of you in a hurry:
- Cut at least one healthy stem from the plant. Why more than one? Because not all of them might root. Cut just below the node (where the leaves grow).
- Remove the lower leaves, ensuring that the top of the cutting has several leaves.
- Place the stem in a water or potting mix (the latter need to be watered). Place the container in a warm, shaded spot that receives several hours of indirect sunlight per day. Check the soil daily and add water as needed to keep it from drying out.
- Wait 1-2 weeks at most (no more) and place into potting soil.
Here the good news
Thyme and rosemary are perennials. This means that they can last several years without you having to regrow again from seed (like happens for my favorite Genovese basil). Some gardeners that have rosemary for 20-30 years, although they are outdoors, it will grow like a small tree.
Learn more about rosemary curious facts such as its long-lasting age in the article below
Rosemary and thyme are often used together in dishes, especially in recipes involving grilled vegetables and meats or stews. These herbs also work well with other herbs such as basil, garlic, chives, cilantro, sage, and parsley.
When using multiple herbs, try pairing fresh herbs with other fresh herbs or dried herbs with other dried herbs. The flavors blend easier when the herbs are closer to the same consistency.
The ingredients are often combined before adding them to a dish for seasoning.
You might have decided to go for rosemary. Then you headed to your local supermarket or nursery to buy one. However, you notice that another herb, called lavender, looks similar and perhaps to you, prettier.
What is lavender, and how can it be used? Is it better than rosemary? Well, for ice cream, definitely yes! It also looks better as an ornamental herb, but it is definitely not for everyone. Do you want to know more! Check the article below
What are the benefits of rosemary and thyme tea? Rosemary and thyme are recommended herbs for tea due to their ability to help in digesting high-fat content food in their antioxidant compounds.
Can you boil rosemary? Yes, rosemary can be boiled. This is usually part of the rosemary tea preparation process. For this purpose, just leave the rosemary in a saucepan with water until it boils. Then turn it off, always keeping the lid on top. This avoids the highly volatile oils of the herbs to leave the solution.#
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