The Elusive “Kekik”

Oh kekik, how you have eluded me.

I started cooking at a very tender age with my Easy Bake Oven, which used a light bulb as it’s heating source.  I loved that hoodad!  Sometimes, when I was very lucky, Mom would buy me a boxed mix at the gracoery store, designed especially for my oven.  Afew years into baking, my sister Eileen introduced me to a recipe that I just loved – Cut a piece of white bread so that it fits into the Easy Bake pan, add a slice of tomato, cover with American cheese, and bake!

We had a yellow one too!

And so began my lifelong love affair with cooking.

By high school, I mastered that recipe.  Of course, I was on to the toaster oven by then.  I used an onion bagel instead of the white bread.  I toasted it.  Then I added the tomato with oregano and freshly ground black pepper.  Toasted again.  Added the white American cheese and top-browned it.  Deelish!

That was (and still is) my idea of a snack.  A snack for me was not something I pulled out of a bag and ate.  Too easy.  (Although when I was really young, I admit that six saltine crackers and a glass of Acme instant iced tea used to do the trick.)  A good snack took time.  And was well worth the wait!

Oregano, or kekik as it is known in Turkey,  became a staple.  No fat.  No vitamins.  No nothing but flavor.  After finishing high school, throughout college, and into my early twenties, I kept cooking.  I worked in fancy restaurants, country clubs, diners, and even on a food truck!  I worked under one chef who taught me to really get to know my spices and use them.  He added salt to absolutely nothing and created the most intensively delicious meals.  So I learned and followed.  He was so good that I used to babysit his kids in exchange for soup.  What I would do to taste his “Rhode Island Clam Chowder” once again – in which he mixed the creaminess of the New England white with the tomato flavors of the Manhattan red, and of course, a lot of herbs and no salt!

In more recent years, my love of oregano waned a bit and was overcome by my love of thyme.  Similar, and yet very very different.  I put it in everything!  Seafood.  Beef.  Chicken.  Pork.  Pasta.  You name it.  It’s there.

Creeping Wild Thyme has a much smaller leaf than Oregano

As you know, I get quite crazy sometimes, and one of my newest pet peeves is the people who translate kekik as thyme.  If it were thyme, would I be making sure to buy thyme each and every trip I take to the States?!  Even my kanka repeatedly calls it thyme!  Drives me completely batty.  I have gone so far as to pull them both out of my cabinet, shove it under one’s nose and in an “I know better than you voice” say, “See????!!”

Closeup of the Oregano Leaf

Well, I am here today people to say, I am almost wrong.  I say almost because I am also right.  But apparently kekik is quite elusive in that a clear definition can not be given!  Having been annoyed by these thyme-calling-kekik nuts one too many times, I delved into some deeper research and found the following definitions:

Adi kekik  ->  Thymus vulgaris.
Akdeniz kekiği   -> Thymian pulegioides.
Alanya kekigi    ->  Origanum majorana.
Başak kekik   -> Thymus capitatus.
Beyaz kekik  ->  Origanum majorana.
Bilyali kekik  ->  Origanum onites.
Dağ kekiği     ->  Thymus vulgaris.
Eğe Kekiği -> Thymus capitatus.
Hakiki kekik -> Thymus vulgaris.
Isrial kekiği  ->  Origanum syriacum.
Izmir kekiği  ->  Origanum onites.
Izmir kekiği  ->  Origanum vulgare.
Kara kekik ->  Satureja thymbra.
Kekik  -> Thymus vulgaris.
Kekik lila   -> Thymus capitatus.
Kıbrıs beyaz kekiği ->  Origanum syriacum
Lila kekik -> Thymus capitatus.
Suriye kekiği ->  Origanum syriacum
Türk kekiği  ->  Origanum onites
Yabani kekik   -> Thymus serpyllum

By the way the double Izmir entry isn’t a mistake, it really is two types. What chance have we got against that?

And so, I apologize to all who call kekik thyme.  You were right and I was, well, right.  And I hope you don’t accidentally pick up the oregano kekik and use it as thyme kekik in your recipes!

While shopping for kekik, I have seen English translations on packages that say “oregano” or “oregano-thyme”.  I have never seen one that just says “thyme.”  But perhaps next time I will pick up one of those packages without the English translation, just for adventure.  It sure would be nice to be able to buy it here, giving me room in my luggage to bring back some of Paul Prudhomme’s Magic from home!

Oh kekik, you naughty naughty herb!  What chance have I got against you?!

4 thoughts on “The Elusive “Kekik”

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  1. We have a bit of bother with this elusive herb. Fresh thyme is virtually impossible to find though we’ve found the dried stuff in supermarkets. We bought a thyme plant over from London. It hasn’t grown well.

  2. I did see lemon thyme plants at Bauhaus at the beginning of summer. But you can’t use that on everything. I have thyme seeds, but I can’t get anything to grow outside well. Even the bagged soil here is not good. And I can’t say much for the plant food either. I finally brought Miracle Gro back from the States. I’ve started seeds again. They are struggling. And it’s no hotter here than it is in Philly. But it is drier. There’s a chance that Metro Gross Markt has fresh thyme. They had cilantro last time I was there. I’ll check it out!

  3. . . we’re surrounded by the stuff – it’s wonderful on a hot summer day as the heat drives the aroma. Jack you should wander the hills outside of town because I know it’s there too. Our local newspaper publishes the tonnage collected each year by the villagers and processed by the Ortaca cooperative – it’s staggering!
    Excellent post, Terry.

  4. Say good bye to the Easy Bake oven when the law banning the sale of 100 watt incandescent bulbs goes into effect in 2012.

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