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Behind the Seasoning: Oregano- Uses, Benefits & Different Types

Greek Oregano & Mexican Oregano
Our Mediterranean Greek Oregano and Mexican Oregano are minty, earthy, and add a punch of flavors to whatever you are cooking. Versatile yet distinct in flavor, oregano is a herb that always has a place in the kitchen.

With so many different ways to use oregano, it is hard to choose a favorite. Read on to learn how the herbs differ in taste and how oregano can be used when cooking. 

What is Oregano?

Oregano is a leafy green herb that stems from the mint family. While there are several varieties of the herb, the most popular tend to be Greek oregano and Mexican oregano. Greek oregano grows in Greece and the Mediterranean region, while Mexican oregano typically grows in Mexico, Central America, and the Southwestern United States.

This leafy herb thrives in a warm climate. As a perennial plant, it comes back year after year, making it pretty easy to grow. The fact that it can thrive in many climates has led to the many varieties of oregano found around the world.

Is oregano an herb?

Oregano is an herb that can be eaten fresh, dried, or in an infused oil. The green leaves have a slight sweetness to them. The herb can be used either fresh or dried in most savory cooking, including marinades and spice mixes.

What does oregano look like?

Oregano leaves are typically green in color, they can be various shades of green, and have an oval shape. Depending on the variety, some oregano leaves can be fuzzy or even flower as they grow. Mediterranean oregano plants grow small purple flowers and reach about 1-2 feet in size. Mexican oregano plants grow much larger, and can reach 3-9 feet when fully grown. 

What does oregano taste like?

It is impressive how many flavor profiles a tiny leaf of oregano can feature. Mediterranean Greek oregano is slightly earthy, a little peppery, sometimes sweet, and can even be a bit spicy. Mexican oregano, on the other hand, is minty and herby, with earthy undertones. When dried, the flavors are similar, just a bit muted due to the dehydration of the herb. 

Mexican Oregano and Greek Oregano jars

Types of Oregano - Difference Between Mexican vs Greek

There's a lot going on when it comes to oregano, and it can get a little confusing. While Greek oregano and Mexican oregano share similar properties, and both are commonly referred to as oregano, they actually come from different plant families. Greek oregano is part of the mint family, while Mexican oregano is from the verbena family. Mexican oregano tends to have a stronger bite but is less bitter, while Greek oregano can have more minty notes.

What is regular oregano?

When referring to "regular oregano", most of the time recipes are referencing common oregano, which is a subset of Greek and Mediterranean oregano. This type of oregano is slightly earthy with peppery notes. You can use Greek or Mediterranean oregano as a substitute without changing the flavor much. Where the oregano is grown in the Mediterranean region can alter the flavor profiles slightly as well.  

What is Mediterranean or Greek oregano?

Mediterranean or Greek oregano is what you would most commonly find in the pantry. The flavor is earthy, pungent, and fragrant. It can even be a little sweet at times. The dried herb is pretty similar in taste to basil and pairs very well with thyme, sage, marjoram, and rosemary. Most tomato-based recipes and sauces are an excellent vehicle for the herb.

What is Italian oregano?

Italian oregano is more than meets the eye. This hybrid herb is actually a cross between oregano and marjoram. Like the Mediterranean and Greek oregano, it is slightly sweet. Traditional pasta sauces, meatballs, and Italian cooking feature the herb. You can replicate the flavor with a blend of Greek oregano and marjoram, both of which are also commonly found in many Italian Herb blends.

What is Mexican oregano?

Surprise! Despite its name, Mexican oregano is not technically oregano. It comes from the verbena family, which more closely relates to mint. However, the herb is used like oregano when cooking, and has some similar flavors, which is why it's commonly grouped with oregano. 

Mexican oregano has a more robust flavor than traditional oregano and is typically less bitter. While it does still have minty notes, the flavor is more earthy and peppery. This leafy herb is a key ingredient in many southwestern blends, including chili powder. As such, it pairs well with chili powder, chilies, and cumin, making it compatible with most dishes in Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern cuisine. 

Ingredients in chili powder as a pie chart with jar of Mild Chili Powder

Oregano Benefits

Oregano not only enhances your food, but it also enhances your health. The leafy herb is rich in antioxidants, has properties that can fight off cancer, and decreases inflammation. Eating the herb is also helpful for fighting off bacteria and reducing viral infections. 

Is it good to eat dried oregano?

Adding dried oregano to your diet is a great idea. Use the herb when cooking with proteins, sauces, stocks, and marinades. The benefits of the herb will absorb into the food. As it is dehydrated, the flavor may be a little less powerful, but all of the benefits of the herb will still be present. 

Is oregano safe to take daily?

Oregano can be taken both as a compressed pill and oil. While it is safe to take daily, it is recommended to consult a doctor before adding the herb to your daily regimen. 

How to Use Oregano

Cooking with oregano opens up a whole world of recipes. When using fresh oregano, cut the sprigs from the plant and give them a thorough rinse. When ready to use, pick the leaves from the stems and chop them finely. Dried oregano can be used right from the jar, as it does not need any extra preparation. If you want dried oregano to be a little finer, you just have to rub it between your fingers to break up the leaves. Both Mexican and Mediterranean Greek oregano are great to use on their own or in combination with other spices.

Do you put dried oregano before or after cooking?

Dried oregano can be used before and after cooking. Depending on what you are making will dictate how the dried herb is used. Most recipes use dried oregano during the cooking process so it has time to infuse into the dish and meld with the other flavors. Oregano can also be used as a topping when eating pizza or mixed with olive oil to eat on bread.

How and where to buy dried oregano?

Dried oregano is widely available in most local markets. We carry both Mexican Oregano and Mediterranean Greek Oregano in our store. Oregano is also a key ingredient in many of our spice blends. Give your taste buds a treat and try out our Italian Herbs, Pizza & Pasta Sprinkle, and Cantanzaro Herb mix. 

What is a Substitute for Oregano in the Kitchen?

Don’t panic if you find yourself without oregano while cooking. Multiple herbs can replace the flavor in your recipe and help complete your dish. When looking for a replacement for Mediterranean Greek oregano, basil, tarragon, and parsley will be your best bet. Again, depending on your recipe you can also substitute an herb blend, like one of those mentioned above. Other herbs like dill, thyme, sage can be useful in a pinch too although they have a slightly different flavor.

When looking for Mexican oregano substitute, look for a more earthy spice. The closest flavor profile that you will get will be marjoram. In fact, the nickname for Mexican oregano is "Mexican marjoram," showing how close the herbs are in flavor. 

What Other Spice, Seasoning, and Flavors Pair Well with Oregano?

Oregano doesn’t have a problem finding a partner in the kitchen. Both varieties of the herb have many pairings that complement their flavor profile. Combine Mediterranean Greek oregano with rosemary and thyme to make a basic seasoning mix; it's also a key ingredient in many Italian and Mediterranean herb blends.  Mexican oregano is excellent alongside chili powders, cumin, and other chiles. 

Carne Asada Tacos on blue background

Recipes Using Oregano

Not sure where to start when cooking with oregano? Not a problem, we’ve got you covered with some of our favorite recipes. Read along to see how you can incorporate oregano into your everyday cooking. 

Mexican Oregano: Next time you are cooking Mexican or Southwestern cuisine, don’t shy away from Mexican oregano. The herb has a strong earthy flavor that pairs well with chili and heat. 

Greek Mediterranean Oregano: A little Greek Mediterranean oregano goes a long way. Use the spice to add a pungent, robust flavor to your cooking, especially if you are working with Greek and Italian flavors. 

Spice Mixes and Blends: Sure, oregano is good on its own, but sometimes it is even better when it is mixed with other herbs and spices. These excellent spice mixes and blends will highlight oregano in brand-new ways to surprise your tastebuds. 

  • Pizza & Pasta Sprinkle: Take your pizza and pasta up a notch with this sprinkle of spices. The blend will complement the Italian flavors that are teeming throughout. 
  • Italian Herb: Dried oregano mixes with French thyme, California basil, rosemary, European basil, and marjoram to make a classic Italian herb blend. Add this spice mix to your pasta sauce, sprinkle it on top of your next slice of pizza, marinate your chicken with olive oil, and this blend for a flavorful bite. 
  • Cantanzaro HerbsIf your go-to spice mix is Italian Herbs when cooking, you’ll be right at home with the Cantanzaro herbs. The blend has a similar flavor profile but features a more all-purpose use. 

 Person holding Pizza & Pasta Sprinkle with pizza in background

For more herby inspiration, browse our Herbs collection or Herbal Flavors. Go Behind the Seasoning to learn more about Basil and ThymeShare your favorite uses below or tag us on Instagram (@savoryspiceshop).

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