Can I Use Rosemary Instead Of Thyme? [Must Read]

Rosemary and thyme are two of the most common spices used in cooking. Sometimes, while cooking, people find themselves missing an ingredient they need. This can be a hassle. No one wants to go back to the store for one ingredient, after all.

Well, rosemary and thyme are pretty similar, right? Does that mean they can be used in place of each other?

The answer may surprise you.

Below, I describe exactly what rosemary and thyme are and what they are used for. Then I talk about the differences and similarities between them before answering the big question, can I substitute rosemary for thyme?

What Is Rosemary?

Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb used in many dishes like soups, sauces, and roasts. It is a large, colorful plant most commonly grown in your garden. Depending on the rosemary plant, it can grow up to 6-8 feet tall and wide. The leaves are a deep green with a needle-like shape.

To learn more about rosemary, check out this article.

how fast does rosemary grow
Rosemary

What Is Rosemary Used For?

Like thyme, rosemary is most commonly used in cooking. However, it has other uses as well. Some people use it to treat minor ailments like anxiety and joint pain. Some people get it just for its appearance. Still, others get it because it wards of nasty pests in your garden.

To learn more about the uses of rosemary, check out this article.

What Is Thyme?

Thyme is a small herb with clusters of small leaves growing atop a thin stem. It is very similar to other herbs like rosemary, sage, and marjoram.

Thyme is a Mediterranean herb similar to rosemary that is commonly used in cooking. It is most often used in dishes of European, British, Mediterranean, African, Latin, Central American, American, and Caribbean decent.

Cooks love to use fresh and dried thyme in their dishes, so it is commonly found in supermarkets across the globe.

Like rosemary, you can also grow your own thyme. Thyme is a very hardy herb that can be grown in the garden or your home. It’s not hard to grow, so you can easily and quickly add it to your garden. If you keep thyme indoors, it will even grow year-round so that you always have a fresh source of thyme for your dishes.

Thyme in white pot
Thyme

What Is Thyme Used For?

Cooking

As we said above, thyme is most often used in cooking. Cooks use it to season dishes either as a blend of other spices, or as a garnish. Thyme is very healthy and can fit into almost every person’s diet. People are very unlikely to be allergic to thyme or have any other dietary complications with it.

There are two varieties of thyme that are most commonly used in cooking: common thyme and lemon thyme. Lemon thyme looks the same as common thyme, but it smells and tastes like lemon.

Appearance

Not everyone uses thyme to cook though. Some people simply like the way it looks in their garden. For these purposes, the wooly thyme, creeping thyme, elfin thyme, and wild thyme are better, more aesthetic options.

These varieties are better suited for use in rocky terrain in your garden and don’t taste good for use in cooking.

Ancient Uses

In the past, thyme was not always used for cooking. Instead it was used as an antiseptic for embalming in Egyptian practices.

In the middle ages during the period of the Black Death, thyme was again used for its antiseptic properties. It was used to protect against infection and was used to treat skin lesions.

Roman soldiers would trade sprigs of thyme and pin it to their garments as a show of strength and bravery. They would also burn it in their homes before worshipping to clear the air.

Rosemary Vs Thyme

Similarities

Although their tastes have more differences than similarities, they do both have an earthy taste to them. If you pay attention, you’ll also notice that they both taste a bit peppery.

Appearance

The key similarity between rosemary and thyme is how they look. Particularly when they’re crushed or ground, they look almost identical.

Both herbs appear green or brown, so make sure you have your ground spices properly labeled. Even crushed leaves, where the leaves remain mostly intact, look almost identical between the two spices.

Nutrition

Both rosemary and thyme are high in Vitamin A and C, calories, fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron.

Difference Between Thyme And Rosemary

Although these two herbs are very similar, they have many differences, particularly in their flavor.

Taste

Rosemary: this herb has a woody taste to it, and it smells like pine and lemon. It is a very strong herb which is why it’s often used to ward off pests in gardens. The scent is very strong, although usually pleasant for humans.

However, if too much is used, the taste can come off bitter. Because of it’s strong taste and smell, it can easily overpower some dishes if you use too much of it.

Thyme: this herb is much more subtle in its scent and flavorings than rosemary. It’s taste is more sweet and light.

Because of its more subtle taste and smell, it can be used in almost any dish without fear of becoming overpowering. Similar to rosemary, it does have an earthy taste with hints of lemon. However, thyme also has a bit of a minty taste to it.

Nutrition

Thyme has considerably less saturated fat than rosemary, up to 5 times less. Thyme also has more riboflavin than rosemary, but rosemary has more folate.

Appearance

Although the two herbs look identical when crushed or ground, they look quite different as plants.

Rosemary is a large plant, growing up to 6-8 feet tall and wide. It is a woody plant with long, evergreen, needle-like leaves. Flowers are usually small and grow in clusters. They come in colors of white, purple, or blue.

Thyme is much smaller and only grows about 6-12 inches tall and 16 inches wide. This makes thyme much easier to grow in your kitchen. The leaves are also very small and oval shaped. Flowers also appear in clusters but come in colors of pink or purple. The petals are also larger than rosemary flower petals.

Rosemary cutting
Rosemary cutting

Can I Use Rosemary Instead Of Thyme?

So, you’re cooking. Should you use rosemary or thyme?

Can you substitute rosemary for thyme?

Quite frankly, rosemary is not a good substitute for thyme. Rosemary has a very strong odor and taste that can quickly overpower a dish if you replace it for thyme. This is particularly true when the recipe calls for spices like tarragon in addition to thyme.

However, you can use thyme as a replacement for rosemary. Thyme has a much subtler and gentler taste to it. It also goes well with many other spices, so it’s hard to overpower your dishes with thyme. You might find that you even need to add some extra thyme to make up for the lack of rosemary.

So, what is the best substitute for thyme? Marjoram is a similar member of the mint family also used in Mediterranean dishes. It has a similar woody and sweet flavor like thyme.

Final Words

Rosemary and thyme are two of the most commonly used herbs in cooking. Despite their similarities, they have more differences than they have in common.

You can use thyme in place of rosemary as thyme works well in almost any dish. However, rosemary is much stronger and more pungent than thyme, so it’s not recommended to use as a substitute for thyme.

If you can, try to grow both in your garden! You’ll find yourself using them all the time. At the very least, buy both spices to keep in your spice rack. You won’t regret it.

Want to learn more? Click here to read my guide to growing rosemary from cuttings or here for how to freeze rosemary. You can also find all my rosemary guides here.