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Run out of thyme? Here's what you can use instead

Ever found yourself in the middle of a cooking session only to realise you're missing an important herb or spice? No need to panic - there’s often a substitute that can save the day and your dinner!

May 8, 2024

Try these substitutes for:

Thyme

  • Rosemary and thyme share a woody, lemony undertone that makes them interchangeable in many dishes, especially in roasted meats and vegetables. Thyme is a bit milder and more subtle than rosemary, which has a robust flavour and a pine-like aroma. Use rosemary in smaller amounts if substituting for thyme, as its strong flavour can become the dominant note if overused.

  • Sage may not seem like an obvious substitute, but they both carry an earthy flavour that complements poultry and meat wonderfully. Sage is a bit stronger, so use it sparingly when replacing thyme. Try it in recipes for stuffing or roasted meats where thyme might normally play a starring role.

  • You can also use oregano.

Oregano

  • If you've run out of oregano, thyme is your best bet for a substitute. It offers a similar earthiness, though it's slightly more subtle. Mixing thyme with a pinch of marjoram (if you have it) can closer replicate oregano's bold punch.

  • Marjoram and oregano are often confused for each other, and for a good reason—they're botanical cousins! Marjoram is sweeter and has a more delicate flavour than oregano, which is bolder and more peppery. If you’re out of oregano, use marjoram in smaller amounts, as its flavour is milder and could be overwhelmed by other strong flavours in dishes like pizza or hearty stews.

  • Both basil and oregano shout Mediterranean! If you’re making a pizza or a tomato-based pasta sauce and find yourself out of oregano, basil can be a fantastic substitute. While basil is sweeter and has a milder peppery flavour, it harmonizes beautifully with tomatoes and cheese. Conversely, oregano can replace basil to give dishes a slightly earthy, more robust flavour, perfect for amping up the complexity of lighter dishes.

Marjoram

  • If you find yourself out of marjoram, basil can fill in. Basil offers a sweet aroma and flavour, which can closely approximate marjoram’s gentle touch in dishes like soups and sauces. You can also use oregano.

Sage

  • Sage’s pungent, slightly peppery flavour is a favourite, particularly with poultry and pork. If you’re out of sage, marjoram or thyme can be good backups. Use them in equal measures to sage in your recipe.

Coriander leaf

  • This might sound surprising, but in certain dishes, especially those with a fruity or tangy profile, mint can replace coriander. The key is using it in dishes where its cooling effect will be a benefit rather than a clash. Try it in spring rolls, salads, or salsas.

Coriander seeds/ground coriander

  • Cumin has a warm, earthy note whereas coriander is slightly sweeter and citrusy. If you run out of one, try using the other in a slightly smaller quantity than your recipe calls for (as they might overpower other flavours). This switch works particularly well in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, where both spices are staple ingredients.
  • Coriander seeds have a lovely, lemony, floral flavour that can be mimicked by ground cardamom. While cardamom is more aromatic and sweeter, it can provide a similar citrusy undertone in recipes. Start with half the amount and adjust as needed.

Allspice

  • This might sound unusual, but ginger can replace allspice in a pinch, especially in sweet recipes. Allspice has a complex flavour reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and while ginger doesn’t mimic this exactly, it introduces a warm, spicy kick that can be delightful in baked goods and desserts. Use powdered ginger sparingly as its intensity can differ greatly from allspice.

Paprika

  • If you’re out of paprika but need that gentle, smoky undertone with a bit of heat, cayenne pepper can be a great substitute. Cayenne is significantly hotter, so the key is to use it sparingly. Begin with just a pinch, then adjust according to your heat tolerance. This swap is best for dishes where paprika is not the main flavour component but one of many spices used.Alternative uses for dried herbs and spices

Nutmeg

  • Nutmeg's warm, nutty flavour is perfect for baking and adds depth to savory dishes like stews. A good substitute for nutmeg is mace (which is the outer shell of the nutmeg seed). It has a lighter, sweeter flavour but works in a pinch. If mace isn't available, a pinch of ground cloves can also do the trick, especially in sweet dishes.

Tarragon

  • Tarragon is known for its distinctive liquorice-like flavour, making it a standout in French cuisine. If your kitchen is tarragon-less, fennel seeds are an excellent alternative, offering a similar aniseedy note.

Star anise

  • This star-shaped spice adds a deep, liquorice flavour to dishes. If star anise is missing from your pantry, whole cloves or even a pinch of ground allspice can be an effective substitute. Both have a complex and pungent flavour profile, suitable for braising liquids and spice mixes. Use a small amount and increase as per your taste preferences.

Cooking with herbs and spices is all about balancing flavours. If you're unsure about a substitution, start with a small amount and adjust according to your taste.

You could also grow your own herbs and never run out!

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