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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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thyme Thymus vulgaris, an important flavouring herb of the Mediterranean region and S. Europe, has been introduced to N. America and is widely cultivated. The principal culinary thyme, it is best known in the form of its cultivar English (also English Winter), but the cultivar French (also Narrow Leaf French, or French Summer) has a stronger flavour and is preferred in France.

There are many other species and some of them have cultivars, so the choice for the cook is extensive. A selection of minor species is shown in the box. More important are the hybrid Thymus × citriodorus (classification and terminology of thymes are confusing: this used to be T. pulegioides × T. vulgaris), lemon-scented thyme, of which there are several cultivars; and T. praecox ssp arcticus (formerly T. serpyllum), wild or creeping thyme, sometimes called mother of thyme, widespread, including N. Europe, also with a number of cultivars. Yet another species, which is important in the Middle and Near East, is T. capitatus, conehead thyme, which may (confusingly) be called ‘Persian hyssop’ although in Arabic it is zaʾatar farsi (Persian thyme). See also zaatar; this is probably the most common and the strongest ingredient in most of the spice mixtures which bear that name. Its flowers are the source of the famous Hymettus honey; and what is called ‘Spanish origanum oil’ is produced from it. It is one of the species which provides the well-known flavour called oregano.