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Oregano Substitute


Most people think of oregano when cooking Italian dishes. While it is a great way to spice up pizza or pasta sauce, it’s also an excellent spice to add when you want a bold and peppery flavor. Here’s an oregano substitute list for when you want to incorporate new flavors instead of constantly reaching for your beloved oregano bottle.

measuring spoon with spice, glass bottle with dry spice labeled Oregano

What is oregano?

Oregano, also known as wild marjoram, is related to the mint family. It is typically grown in the Mediterranean, parts of Asia, Mexico, and the US. It has an interesting back story that many people might not be familiar with.

This herb was first grown and used in Greece, and its name means “joy of the mountain.” It was thought to be an herb created by Aphrodite that symbolized happiness in her plant nursery. Once the plant was discovered in Rome, it shifted to Europe and the US. Initially, oregano was used as medicine in China, among other locations.

Now, oregano is mainly used for cooking purposes. However, some people carry on the tradition of using it as medicine.

What are the different types of oregano?

Oregano comes in many forms, and its flavor is affected based on the location it is grown. Greek oregano is most commonly used in the US in both Italian and Greek cuisine. However, there is also Italian oregano and Mexican, Cuban, and Syrian oregano, to name a few.

Besides edible oregano strains, there are a few types of oregano that cannot be eaten. They can, of course, be used as decoration or to provide a pleasant appearance in gardens.

Top Oregano Substitutes and Alternatives

1.Fresh Oregano

Fresh oregano works as one of the best oregano substitutes. It adds a freshness to dishes and works excellently with lamb dishes. As fresh oregano has a more robust flavor than dried oregano, you may find it can take over the taste of some recipes.

Dried oregano has a lighter flavor, causing it to be included in more dishes like Italian sauces and Greek food items.

Pros
With fresh oregano, you’ll be able to have a bolder flavor in your dishes. As lamb has a strong flavor, it balances out the taste of this fresh herb hence why it works well with lamb-based meat dishes.

Cons
Fresh oregano does not stay good for long. If you’re purchasing fresh oregano to use in a recipe, make sure to use it within a week, or it can turn brown and lose its flavor. It’s not as easy to find the fresh version in stores – it’s more commonly seen as a dried spice.

Cooking Tip:
Since the dried version is more concentrated, you’ll want to use more fresh oregano as a swap. Start with 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano and add more if needed.

2. Basil

Basil is a favorite substitute for oregano, specifically in Italian dishes or Mediterannean-inspired meals. If you often use Italian seasoning or Italian dried herbs when creating sauces, you’ll notice that basil and oregano are always included in this spice mix. These two spices complement each other, so it generally makes sense that basil would work as an alternative.

Basil is very easily found in stores and supermarkets – both as a spice and a fresh herb. You can find the fresh version near the vegetables in the refrigerated section. Often, during the summer, you’ll even be able to purchase a basil plant so you can grow your own.

Pros
Basil works well in tomato-based dishes and other dishes that typically incorporate oregano. It’s found at all stores, and most people already have a jar of it in their kitchen.

Cons
Using basil as an alternative generally only works in Mediterranean recipes. This limits the dishes you can use basil in as a swap for oregano.

Cooking Tip:
Use dried basil in a 1:1 ratio in recipes.

3. Thyme

Thyme is an excellent herb to use as an oregano replacement. It is related to oregano as it also hails from the mint family. Using thyme also provides warmth along with a peppery flavor. It has a subtle taste and smell that gives versatility to dishes.

Thyme originated in the Mediterranean and works excellently with this type of cuisine. Since it has a milder taste, it can be used in other types of cuisine without overpowering the dish. Use thyme with eggs, soup, fish, and as a chicken seasoning agent.

Pros
Fresh thyme is a great substitution when you’re looking to replace the peppery taste associated with oregano. It can be used in nearly all types of cuisine which makes it an easy alternative. Most people with an herb garden have thyme growing, making it convenient to use thyme when oregano is unavailable.

Cons
Even though it has a mild flavor, dried thyme is bolder than oregano. It is easy to use too much of this seasoning which will make the taste difference apparent.

Cooking Tip:
Start with half of the amount of thyme that the recipe requires. If you enjoy the flavor, you can increase the amount used.

4. Marjoram

As marjoram and oregano are related, it makes sense that this spice works well as an alternative. Marjoram is the best-dried oregano substitute as the flavor is very similar. It does have a milder, flowery flavor with citrusy notes.

Marjoram is most often grown in Northern Africa, although it is thought to have been initially produced in the Mediterranean. Marjoram works in every dish that usually requires oregano. Though you can expect a lighter flavor when using this as a swap.

Pros
Marjoram has a similar flavor to oregano, causing it to be the best substitution. It works well in all dishes that call for oregano, so it’s easy to use it as an alternative.

Cons
With a lighter flavor, you’ll need to use a larger quantity of marjoram to achieve a similar taste. There are slight taste differences, so it is not a perfect match for oregano.

Cooking Tip:
Use 1.3x the amount of marjoram that the recipe requires. This will balance out the more subtle taste that marjoram provides.

FAQs

What type of oregano is used for cooking?

As noted above, Greek oregano is the variety that is used most often in dishes. Other edible types include Italian, Cuban, Mexican, Golden, and Syrian oregano. Each offers its unique flavor profiles. Of course, they are commonly used in dishes inspired by their country of origin.

What is the difference between oregano and Mediterranean oregano?

Mediterranean oregano encompasses all oregano that is grown in places like Greece, Italy, and Morocco. Oregano is generally the way that Greek oregano is referred to. Oregano is one type of Mediterranean oregano that is grown and available for consumption.

Is oregano better fresh or dried?

In general, fresh spices are the better option. They provide a bolder flavor than their dried counterparts. Of course, dried oregano is an excellent choice as it can be preserved for longer, and it still provides the peppery and bitter taste that oregano provides. However, dried spices tend to have a more muted flavor, so opt for fresh when possible.

Can I substitute thyme for oregano?

Yes, you can use thyme instead of oregano in dishes. Both fresh and dried will work. However, the dried version is more intense, so it’s best used in small doses as a swap.

Summary

Regardless of if you have run out of oregano or want to enjoy an unfamiliar flavor, use marjoram as your top pick. This subtle herb provides the right amount of flavor to any recipe that requires oregano typically. Use this substitution over fresh oregano as it offers more versatility.

Trying new spices is an excellent way to grow your skills in the kitchen. Not only does it allow you to be creative and inventive, but it also provides you with knowledge of which flavors work well together. Start trying the above alternatives and see where they take you.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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