Home Ingredients Herbs and Spices Lemon Thyme Substitutes – The 6 Best Choices

Lemon Thyme Substitutes – The 6 Best Choices

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Fresh lemon thyme

Lemon thyme is a herb that looks and tastes a lot like the common variety except there’s added lemony flavor. It’s a useful ingredient for seasoning meat, poultry, seafood, and stuffing.

The biggest challenge with this herb is that it’s hard to find on the shelf in stores. If you don’t have any in the kitchen then don’t let it stop you from finishing that recipe. We’ve created a list of our favorite lemon thyme substitutes so that you can finish any dish without the original ingredient.

What can I use to replace lemon thyme?

If you need a substitute for lemon thyme, then your best options are regular thyme combined with lemon zest, dried lemon thyme, lemon verbena, or lemon balm. If you’re in a pinch, you could also consider using lemongrass or sage. Although no replacement will provide an exact match to lemon thyme, all these suggestions won’t be out of place in most recipes.

1. Thyme and lemon zest

Regular thyme is easy to find at the grocery store by visiting the herbs section. If you combine it with lemon zest, you’ve got an excellent combination for replacing lemon thyme.

A ratio of three teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves combined with one teaspoon of zest should provide good flavor. Feel free to adjust this amount based on your personal preferences.

If you love a burst of lemon in your cooking, then you may want to increase the quantity of zest a little. Don’t overdo it, though, because no one enjoys an overly lemony dish.

2. Dried lemon thyme

It’s hard to beat the citrusy taste and fragrance that you get from fresh lemon thyme. Although the dried variety isn’t as vibrant, it’s still useful for adding pungent, lemony flavor to summer dishes, salads, stuffing, dressings, and refreshing teas.

Whatever recipe you decide to use it in, always use less than you would the fresh variety. Dried lemon thyme packs a punch so we suggest using half the quantity as you would use the fresh type.

3. Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena is herbaceous in flavor with a gentle sweetness and powerful lemon scent. It is a versatile herb that is suitable for salad dressings, poultry, soup, salsa verde, and roast meat.

Like thyme, it can withstand heat for long periods without losing its intensity. The leaves can be tough so we suggest chopping them finely before adding to food; otherwise, leave them whole and remove after cooking like you would bay leaves.

While lemon verbena may have a powerful lemon aroma, it has a much less aggressive lemon flavor compared to lemon thyme. Doubling the quantity may sound like a great plan, but the problem is you will overwhelm the dish with lemon fragrance. Instead, we suggest using half the amount of lemon verbena combined with the zest of half a lemon.

Lemon thyme substitute infographic4. Lemon balm

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and provides a citrusy, acidic flavor to dishes with a subtle hint of mint. Use it to brighten seafood, salads, vinaigrettes, sauces, and soups. It’s also delicious added to baked goods like cookies, cakes, and loaves, used in the same way as lemon zest.

5. Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking and adds bright, intense lemon flavor to food along with a subtle ginger undertone. It is a tough, fibrous type of grass that is best chopped or pounded before using.

Lemongrass is most commonly used as a fresh ingredient, but you may prefer to search for this ingredient as an essential oil or dried powder. Although your food won’t get that same fresh burst, they require less preparation and store easier in the pantry.

Did you know? Laksa paste uses lemongrass as a key ingredient.

6. Sage

Sage offers a slightly different flavor profile to lemon thyme, making it a useful substitute if you’re looking for something a little different. Its earthy, minty, peppery taste is rounded off with a subtle hint of lemon – a hat-tip to the ingredient it’s replacing.

Add sage to heavy savory dishes like roast venison, pork, and lamb, or other recipes where rich, heavy ingredients are used. Sage works wonders at cutting through and brightening food as well as standing up to other bold herbs and spices.

To replace lemon thyme, we recommend using sage sparingly to avoid overwhelming their dish. Use half the amount of lemon thyme and if possible, taste test before adding any extra. You may also want to add a little lemon zest to provide extra depth of flavor.

Lemon thyme growing in a pot
Try growing lemon thyme at home if you can’t buy it.

Fast facts

  • Thyme comes in a range of varieties that have their own uses in the kitchen. Check out our handy guide which compares regular thyme and lemon thyme so that you know how to work with them when cooking.
  • Lemon thyme can be used on its own as a seasoning or combined with other popular herbs like sage, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, basil, parsley, or cilantro.
  • Thyme is a popular herb used in European, French, and Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Lemon thyme is excellent for withstanding long cooking times and is perfect for baking and roasting.
  • Cooks having trouble finding fresh lemon thyme in-store may want to search online for the dried variety.

Related reading:
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Summing up

If you like to make food with robust, citrus flavor then lemon thyme is an excellent herb to keep on hand. The biggest issue with this ingredient is that it’s not easy to find at the grocery store. The best solution, if space permits, is to grow your own in the garden. If that’s not going to happen, you can use regular thyme combined with lemon zest, dried lemon thyme, lemon verbena, or lemon balm. They’re not perfect substitutes, but they won’t taste out of place in your next recipe that calls for lemon thyme.

What dish are you hoping to cook that calls for lemon thyme? Please share with us in the comments below.