Dried thyme is an herb that is commonly added to meats, marinades, and most any dish in need of seasoning. Fresh thyme and dried thyme can usually be used interchangeably, albeit in different proportions. Dried thyme can be homemade from fresh sprigs. It is also widely available in grocery stores and specialty spice shops.
Thyme is a staple of many European and North African foods. It is an herb indigenous to the Mediterranean region, from Spain to Greece and from Morocco to Tunisia. Thyme typically has a long growing season in these warmer climes, but it is not perennial. Drying thyme in the summer allows it to be saved and stored for the winter, making cooking with thyme is a year-round possibility.
Home cooks and gardeners can dry thyme in small batches rather easily. Thyme generally grows on tall stalk-like stems, which should be clipped near their base just before the plants bloom — usually in late summer. Gardeners should tie the stalks upside-down, then hang them somewhere cool and dark 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 her own thyme can often find fresh sprigs for sale in the produce section of her grocery store. Most of the time, pre-packaged thyme contains more sprigs than are needed for a single recipe. Rather than discard the excess thyme, many cooks elect to dry it in order to preserve it for future use.
Once dried, the stalks can either be saved in airtight containers for later use or, as is more common, the individual leaves can be removed, crushed, and stored. Thyme stalks are edible, but they do not carry much flavor and are usually tough to chew. The leaves are the only parts of the thyme plant that are used in cooking.
Dried thyme is usually available for sale pre-dried as well. In most parts of the world, thyme has become a ubiquitous cooking herb, and dried thyme is a staple of the spice shelf in most stores. Most commercially prepared thyme is dried in large dehydrator machines. Cooks who are serious about herb drying can often purchase dehydrators for home use, though these can be quite expensive.
In most cases, cooks can substitute dried thyme in recipes that require fresh thyme. If the thyme has been only recently dried, its flavor is likely to be quite strong. In dried form, however, it takes up less space, which means that equal measurements of fresh thyme and dried thyme may actually contain different amounts of the herb. Most of the time, cooks use about half as much dried thyme as they would fresh. Adjustments may need to be made for thyme that was dried long ago or has been on the shelf for quite awhile, as the intensity of flavor dissipates over time.